I know discussing "elections" can be like being forced to take a math test with something smelly smeared on it.
Now the stakes are much higher than a grade in math class. Tackling fair elections may be the only way to save our own lives, avert climate disaster and have any hope of a vibrant and successful community.
So grab a cup of tea and settle in. I'm going to make this as painless humanly possible.
What stops us from having universal health care, rail-based public transportation, economically sound and family-friendly immigration policies, a fair and environmentally responsive tax system, solar energy as high a priority as coal or oil, sober leadership for those who choose to fight for our country and a host of other things most developed countries have that we don't?
People will say various things in response to that questin--the two-party system, the swamp, politicians, corporate money in politics, etc... Essentially though, they all come down to the same thing. The people in office are not responsive to the voters.
American public opinion has been percentage-wise vastly more progressive than our elected representatives for decades. Sure, there are Americans with non-progressive viewpoints. I'll bet some readers of my blog don't identify as progressive. But given your tolerance for my posts, it is very unlikely that you are happy voters of the Democrats or Republicans. You may be more fiscally conservative than progressive or concerned with individual freedom or interested in living wages.
Whatever your stance, if it is not directly in alignment with one of the major parties, we share the same number one problem.
That is our system of voting.
Now I am not dissing the founding fathers. They did pretty darn good for their time. They only had a few European examples of semi-democracy to go on and they took some ideas for the US constitutin from the Iroquois.
Still--due respect to the founding fathers granted--let's face it. As good as it was for its time the Electoral College was a system set up to handle the problem of carrying ballots on horseback over hundreds of miles of open country. And the party system was also based on a pre-technological world.
We have better options today.
The primary reason for changing our voting system is that it would allow for representatives who more accurately reflect the views of the citizens to be elected. And it would mean that those representatives would be more responsive to the concerns of constituents, because they would know that party loyalty will not balance out lack of popularity among voters.
You are no doubt familiar with the concept of "spoilers" in elections. That's where you have two main candidates for a position, one from the Democrats and one from the Republicans. And then along comes a third party candidate.
If the third candidate is a Green, it is possible that some of the voters who vote for the Green would not have stayed home if the Green didn't exist. They might have voted for the Democrat. If the candidate is a Libertarian, the voters for that candidate might have voted for the Republican if the Libertarian didn't exist.
The logic is that if you are a concerned and responsible voter, who really cares about your country, and you go to vote, you must vote for a major party candidate who has a "real chance of winning," because a vote for a third party candidate is just like staying home. It means your vote is wasted and it could have been used to help the better of the two major party candidates.
And when the worse of the two major party candidates bears a striking political resemblance to an early-years Hitler or Stalin, that becomes a real problem.
Every single American I know has been in that very unpleasant bind while voting, whether they chose to buck the system and vote for an outsider or to tow the line and hope for the best. Whether you're one of those people who says we should vote for the Democrats to avoid people like Trump or one of those who says we have to vote our conscience, we aren't really two different camps. We've been through the same anxiety and frustration.
A change in voting system is an issue that a vast swath of Americans can get behind. Our political, strategy and policy differences don't matter in this, because in the end a voting system that allows each voter to vote their conscience without fear of spoilers is a system in which everyone wins.
Well, almost everyone. The top brass of the Democratic and Republican parties and their corporate backers will lose. And we'll all drink to that just before we part ways and start having a real democracy in which it isn't a dire problem that we disagree on everything else.
So, here in a nutshell is the technical explanation you've been waiting for:
Score Run-off Voting is a system in which the voter gives every candidate on the ballot a score. It's kind of like a beauty contest except it's a policy contest. You rate each candidate on how much you like their stated policies, track-record, ethics and statements. You have a scale of, for instance, 5 to 1, and you look at each candidate in turn and decide if you like them a lot, a little, or don't care, dislike them a little or a lot.
Let's say you score an independent candidate as a 5 (because you know them well and believe in everything they stand for), a Green as a 4 and a Libertarian as a 4 (because you like most of their policies but not all), a Democrat as a 3 (because you aren't crazy about them but could survive them) and Trump as 1 (because your child will die of type 1 diabetes if he repeals the ACA).
Your scores along with everyone else's scores contribute to each candidate's overall score. You have supported the Democrat over the Republican and you have given support to several possible candidates, while giving the most support to the one you want most. Those scores will be tallied by a fairly simple computer program and two top winners will emerge.
The computer will then run-off those two candidates using your score for each.
If--as Democrats and Republicans are always predicting--the top two candidates are still the Democrat and the Republican, then when those two are run-off your vote, in the example above, will be a vote for the Democrat. If you gave the Democrat a 3 and the Republican a 1, you have essentially voted for the Democrat in the run-off.
But because the fear of spoilers would be taken away and the two major parties would no longer have a stranglehold on resources or an argument to journalists and voters claiming that other candidates are irrelevant, it is altogether possible in local and national races that the run-off could be between, say, your favorite independent and the Libertarian you sort of liked. In that case your vote in the run-off would go to the independent and even if she didn't win, you'd be better off than you are now.
Score Run-off Voting has a difficult and technical name and this whole thing may seem like a little technical issue, but in reality everything else develops from the voting system. That is why I argue that if there is one single issue to focus your finite energy for political involvement on, this should be it. Whether you're concerned about the environment or education or Black Lives Matter or health care or a living wage. it all comes down to this.
We must have a realistic hope of electing those who back policies we need and a guarantee of un-electing those who don't follow through.
Here are the reasons why:
- Score Run-off Voting is the system that would actually break the two-party stranglehold on elections. Some other run-of or "approval" systems would help and can be supported as interim measures, but this one is the clincher.
- It would undermine corporate influence.
- And it is achievable. Through state-level initiatives for Score Run-off Voting the change can be made within a few years, whereas strategies such as "taking back the Democratic Party" or building up another party have an outlook of decades and a small probability of success.
There are currently initiatives in Oregon for Score Run-off Voting and interest growing across the country.