Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why the Election System Needs to Change

Whether or not the conditions for Duverger's Law are well understood, the principle seems to be alive and well in America.  Most of us know that where we might have minority party candidates we prefer, choosing one of them drastically increases the odds of electing the majority party candidate we like least.  It is demoralizing whether one votes for someone who had little chance of winning or votes for someone for whom they had little hope.

For example, if Ross Perot had persisted in the 1992 election, it's very possible that Clinton would not have been elected.  Looked at another way, Perot's withdrawal from the race along with his curious plug for Clinton makes one wonder whether strategic withdrawal is yet another inherent weakness in the system.

Let's say that in 2007, the electoral system had been adjusted to allow instant run-off voting.  Now, imagine that we had a different scenario in 2008.  As Barack Obama takes the lead in his party, instead of agreeing to become Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton forms the Progressive Party and runs against him.  In other circles, Gary Johnson represents the Libertarian ticket.  Ron Paul forms his own Change Party ticket.  Newt Gingrich forms a Conservative ticket outside the GOP.  And good old "maverick" McCain still heads the GOP ticket.  Not to mention the indomitable Ralph Nader.

Now that's an interesting election!  In this alternate universe, many people that voted for Obama in this universe might have picked Gary Johnson as their first choice, followed by Hillary and then by Obama.  Or picked Nader first followed by Obama and then Hillary.  Or Ron Paul, followed by McCain, followed by Hillary.  Some that voted for McCain, in the alternate universe may have picked Ron Paul, followed by Gingrich, followed by Johnson, followed by McCain.  Others might have picked Johnson, followed by Paul, followed by McCain, followed by Gingrich.

And how would this Babel be resolved in instant run-off voting?  In the more interesting case (in which people actually prefer minority party candidates to the GOP and Democrat choices), it may have to go through several rounds of elimination votes.  First Nader is eliminated and those ballots are reevaluated to count for the next preferred candidate.  Most of these votes get are distributed between Clinton, Obama,  Paul and Johnson.  Let's say the next eliminated is Gingrich.  Most of his votes get distributed between McCain, Paul and Johnson.

In the next round, McCain is eliminated and most of his votes are distributed between Johnson and Paul.  Obama gets eliminated next and his votes are distributed between Clinton, Johnson and Paul.  Ron Paul  is eliminated and most of his votes go to Johnson.  Maybe Johnson wins,  maybe Clinton wins.  It all depends on the order of preference selected by each voter.

As you can see, the least preferred candidates, the least objectionable by the most people, get eliminated first.

But there is even more to it than this.  You can prefer a candidate without worrying about throwing away your vote.  You can truly come closer to voting your conscience.  This is encouraging to voters.  It also encourages alternative platforms.   It allows a true reformer to come out of nowhere and convince voters of both camps that he has something they might prefer to that offered by their previous party of choice.   It increases competitions among platforms and decreases the polarization of the Two Party system.   It also increases the likelihood of more voters feeling that the election winner represents them to some extent.

I think many Independents, Democrats, and Republicans often feel that they are choosing which crook can represent their interests best.  I believe IRV would be a step in the right direction.

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