Changing the tone of politics from the inside out

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by: David Fejeran

If you’re voting for president this next election cycle, you’re likely either voting for your least favorite person or your second least favorite person. If you’re voting third party, you’re either voting for Gary Johnson, a man who knows very little about Middle Eastern Geography, or Jill Stein, a woman who thinks that a great way to address the systematic oppression of American Indians is through graffiti and vandalism. As a debater, I’m very interested and invested in this election; however, I know very few people outside my circle who care at all about this election. Given the state of political discourse today, I really can’t blame them.

In the previous issue a contributor wrote about the current state of American politics, identifying political parties as cults, and urging people like you and me to reject the cult mentality that modern political parties, especially the two main parties, seem to embody. I want to go one step further. Instead of merely rejecting the cult mentality, let’s look at how and why the cult mentality exists, and what can be changed to prevent our parties from acting like cults in the first place.

Political scientists who study American politics point out a little law that shows how and why the United States has had only two main parties for the last 150 years; they call it DuVerger’s Law. Put simply, when voters are told to vote for their favorite candidate in single-member plurality districts, over time, all third parties will be weeded out until there are only two parties left. For example, let’s say we have political parties A, B, C, D, and E, each appealing to 15-25% of the popular vote. Let’s say B wins with 25% of the vote, A comes close behind with 24%, and C and E each only get 15%. People who voted for C and E are likely to get discouraged after losing by a 10% margin, so they’ll either not vote or join one of the more powerful parties. After C and E keep shrinking, we’re only left with A, B, and D. Parties A and B have maintained a lot of the political strength they’ve held from the beginning, and try to appeal to as many voters as possible. This eventually chokes out Party D. Even though in our original example, C, D, and E made a majority of the electorate, all of them are disappointed in the way the election system has cut their voices out of the democratic discussion.

A possible solution to this quandary is rank-choice voting. Essentially, you’re given a list of candidates and are asked to rank them according to who you like most. This way, those who want to vote third party can do so without “throwing their vote away” because if their favorite candidate doesn’t get enough votes to win, their second favorite candidate by default gets their vote. Their voices are still heard and very much taken into account, which helps bring otherwise disenfranchised voters to the polls. This creates a healthier and more inclusive elective process.

While this would require radical change within the electoral college and election system as a whole, it has been shown to create better campaigns. Since 2004, San Francisco has implemented rank-choice voting for their mayoral races. Almost immediately, nearly all the candidates stopped running negative campaign ads and tried to have the cleanest, most inclusive, and friendliest campaign possible. Why? Because with rank-choice voting the candidates are not simply trying to rile up their base; they’re also trying to win second-place and third-place votes to secure their chances of winning. In trying to appeal not only to those who already like you but also to those who might like you or don’t like you yet, candidates are pressured to have the most positive campaigns that they can. This can greatly reduce the cultish “us v. them” mentality that pervades American politics as thoroughly as it does in the 2016 race.

Rank choice voting surely is not perfect. It may complicate the voting process, but in theory it allows more voices to be heard. In practice, it incentivizes friendlier campaigning and creates a more thorough vision of the views of the electorate. Most importantly, it would be a breath of fresh air compared with the septic tank that is this election cycle. For the sake of giving the people a means to let their voices be heard, we should adopt rank-choice voting.

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