18 February 2016

2-3-4: A “bi”-partisan 3-step solution to a 4-way race in 2016


Despite the evidence so far in this election that the American People are rejecting “politics as usual,” pundits, politicians, elections officials, political parties, etc. continue to live under the outdated framework of a two-party paradigm, the “left” versus the “right.”  Already, the People see how the two-party infrastructure has relied upon contrast, conflict, and campaigns to sustain a government stalemate, in lieu of compromise, governability, and sustainability.  Despite its perverse effects in disproportionally empowering corporate interests in the US political process, the “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court had the unspoken benefit of unshackling our political system from the two political party establishments.  Money now flows freely between super-PAC’s, candidate PAC’s, industry advocacy groups, unions, etc. without the intervention and influence customary to the two major political parties. 

This has opened up the domain of the political space from a line between a “left” and a “right” side, to a more complex and multi-dimensional space.  Is it rightly “conservative” to advocate for government intervention in intimate family decisions such as marriage and childbearing?  Is it rightly “progressive” to rely on cheap imports to enable cost effective deployment of clean-energy solutions that can compete with conventional, fossil fuel technologies?

Trump has upended the convention of the Republican Party as we know it.  Furthermore, in the likely event that moderates coalesce around a “reasonable” nominee like Kasich or Jeb Bush, Trump will likely defect to wage an independent campaign.  This would present a grave potential for “spoiler effect,” effectively splitting the votes among the base.  Many would argue that this amounts to a tyrannical strategic move that would hand the election over to the unified opposition.

However, the rise of Bernie Sanders against the favored frontrunner Hillary Clinton challenges this calculus.  With Trump’s independent campaign in play, no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, there is the unique opportunity here to wage a third-party campaign oriented to the “left,” without the spoiler effect concern that typically prevents such strategic action.  If both Bernie and Hillary ran –- one as the official Democratic nominee and the other as an additional third-party bid in addition to Trump’s – this offers a 4-way race in the general election.

This election's calculus yields more than 2 possible answers.

To prevent the further chaos and division that such a general election dynamic may present, I would like to propose 3 easy steps to reforming American elections.  These three steps would benefit all voting citizens of the US (whether they identify as “left” or “right”):

  1. Automate the drawing of electoral district boundaries.
  2.  Establish instant runoff voting as a means to foster third-party development and to give people more choice
  3. End the Electoral College.

Automate the drawing of electoral district boundaries.

In today’s data-driven age, when it’s easier than ever to compile data from devices and social networks to pinpoint who lives where within a few meters, why haven’t we figured out a way to institutionalize an automated process for drawing electoral district boundaries?  Thanks to institutionalized gerrymandering, our democracy has devolved to the point in which voters no longer select their politicians; rather, politicians select their voters.  In the meantime, optimization software has already been developed that will draw district boundaries, even while respecting as best as it can local boundaries defined by townships, cities, counties, etc. (think of it as a “snap- to-grid” function for the electoral map).  It does this through an algorithm whose logic can be made accessible to the public, so as to prevent any attempt at quietly hijacking the procedural steps for any one entity’s benefit.  I propose we banish all factors that have traditionally been used to administer electoral district boundaries (yes, this does include minority and other demographically defined districts), and replace it with a computer process that is simple to understand.  It will save lots of money, and it will eliminate the human and special interest element altogether from this mapmaking equation.  Plus, the maps will be prettier.

[Source: Brian Olson, “2010 Redistricting Result” website: http://bdistricting.com/]

Instant runoff voting

Allow for voters to select multiple candidates, in ranked fashion, for each position.  One way to implement this is the instant runoff election.  In this process, the ballots are collected, and the votes tallied.  With these totals, an iterative counting method is used in which the first candidate to receive a majority of the votes is declared the winner.  With this method, first, the #1 selection from each voter is counted and totaled.  If a candidate receives more #1 selections than 50% of the total number of voters, then they win.  If not, then the last-place candidate is eliminated from the race.  If you voted for the loser candidate, I’m sorry.  But the candidate you chose for your #2 selection (if you chose one at all) will now gain a vote from your ballot.  This occurs for all ballots who voted the loser #1.  If a candidate receives enough of those “loser runner-up votes” to put their total above 50%, then they win.  If not, then this process repeats, traversing up the ladder of remaining last-place candidates until somebody finally surpasses the 50% mark.  The important thing to note here is that, at no point, was there a “wasted vote” doomed to “not count.”  Additionally, this system does not penalize voters who may only want to vote for one candidate.  Each voter still counts equally.

Because an instant runoff ballot would allow individual voters to vote for multiple candidates, it does not require the voter to choose “the lesser of two evils” in their candidate choice.  In many cases, especially in a close general election under the present-day two-party system, voters might be compelled to vote for their preferred mainstream candidate instead of a candidate from a similar minor party, with whom they may share more views in common.  This happened in the 2000 election, when many Green Party voters faced the choice of whether to vote for Ralph Nader or to vote for Al Gore out of fear of a George Bush win under the “spoiler effect.”  In fact, it’s still unclear as to the extent of this effect on the razor-thin margins between Gore and Bush.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Tea Party didn’t have to fight with the Republicans, but could actually work alongside each other, as one would expect with folks with similar philosophies?  Similarly, wouldn’t it be nice if similar conflicts didn’t have to exist between environmental progressives and labor unions within the Democratic party?  A few simple but fundamental electoral reforms, like those outlined above, could make this reality.  And if we could eliminate issues related to primaries that are skewed by low overall voter turnout, then hey, we can save some more money by eliminating primaries altogether, since minor party candidates can now be represented in a big-tent general election with ranked ballot choices.

In Conclusion

I would recommend that folks from both sides work together on framing and implementing these electoral reforms, with the dual purpose of allowing more diversity in our political discourse, but without the divisiveness and destructive rhetoric that has characterized this election so far.

I'm Mike George, I am a maverick, and I approve this message.