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Archive for February, 2008

Let’s Find the Real Choice of the People

Posted by hyperpat on February 10, 2008

The current political election process for President is a mess. Starting with the primaries, each state has different rules for how to count votes, and even within each state there are often different rules for each political party. In some states it’s ‘winner take all’. In others delegates are split proportional to the vote. In still others, delegates are won on a county-by-county basis. On top of this are what’s known as ‘super-delegates’, who are not bound to follow the popular vote, but can vote for whomever they wish in the final party nomination convention – a sure recipe for back-room deals. When we get to the final election in November, once again we find that things don’t necessarily go according to the overall popular vote, but instead ‘x’ number of electoral voters are assigned by the individual state votes, mainly on ‘winner take all’ basis, and off we go to the Electoral College. And because of the ‘winner take all’ bias, third party candidates stand almost no chance of being elected, even though a significant portion of the voting populace may like a particular third party candidate.

Now do we really want to continue with these current methods? The final result of current methods is to effectively disenfranchise a large portion of the populace: Candidate A wins 51% of the vote in a state, while Candidate be gets 49%, but all the delegates go to Candidate A, and all the votes for Candidate B don’t count! On top of this is a secondary effect: because people know that votes for marginal or third party candidates are unlikely to be effective, they conclude that voting for such candidates is tantamount to ‘wasting’ their vote, and therefore only vote for one of the major candidates. Once again, the real ‘voice of the people’ is not heard.

There is a possible fix for this. It’s called a modified rank-preferential ballot system. In this system, voters do not vote for just one candidate, but rather rank their choices among the contenders from first to last choice (and ‘NONE’ should be a choice for those voters who don’t like any of the candidates). When votes are tallied, on the first pass only the #1 choices are tallied, and the candidates then ranked by the total votes they have received. If the #1 choice at this point has less than 50% of all votes cast (which has been true for most modern Presidential elections), then the candidate with the fewest votes is then eliminated, and all those ballots that had that candidate marked as #1 will now be recounted, this time picking their #2 choice. These new votes will be added to those candidates that are left, and once again they will ranked from first to last in order of total votes. This process is repeated, each time eliminating the candidate with the fewest votes and recounting the ballots for that individual, until there is a candidate with more than 50% of the vote. Note that it would be possible under this system for NONE to win – at which point I think we would need to start over with new candidates, as clearly all the politicians are completely out of touch with what the people want.

Besides using this voting system, we should get rid of the Electoral College and its relative ‘weighting’ for each state, and standardize the primaries across all states and parties. For the primaries, it’s probably not possible to legislate how each party wants to count votes (or even if they want votes at all), as these are effectively private entities. But we can at least force a common date for them, avoiding the current protracted process. But the described system should be of advantageous use for the parties themselves to figure out which is really their best choice for candidate.

Making these changes in our voting would have several advantages:

1. There would be a direct correspondence between the ‘will of the people’ and who gets elected. No more cases of ‘minority’ Presidents, no more back room deals.

2. People will be more likely to vote for who they really want, regardless of how much of a ‘fringe’ candidate they are, as they know that even if their candidate is eliminated, their second (or third, or fourth) choice will still be counted and could make a difference in the final outcome.

3. More information is really gathered in this way, as a true ranking of just how popular a candidate and his positions are emerges from the multiple choice ranking. If candidate C not only is not the first choice of anyone, but is also not even their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice, it becomes clear that he really doesn’t represent the people’s choice. Alternatively, if candidate D doesn’t receive many first place votes, but shows up second on many ballots, he may either actually end up the winner, or if not, it will be clear that the views he espouses are liked by many people, and the winner will need to take that into account during his administration. Thus no voter will need to feel that his vote didn’t count or his feelings and opinions were ignored.

Of course, to make this a reality, it will take a Constitutional amendment, which unfortunately means that we would have to convince at least 38 state legislatures to vote for it – and in some states, there does not even have to be a popular vote taken on the issue, merely a vote by that state’s legislative body. But even in those states, people can make their voice heard by directly contacting their state representatives and voicing their feelings about this.

So if you’d really like to see a voting system that pays attention to everyone equally, perhaps now is the time to start lobbying for that amendment, before we end up with yet another President who represents the views of only a minority of people of this country.

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