Monday, November 8, 2010

RESTORE DEMOCRACY: Instant Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation

elections ~~ VOTING IS USELESS

by Tina Phillips

How many times do we hear that the election system is broken?

The system was set up by two mainstream and capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans, as a way to keep voters from voting for who they truly want to see in office— and that is just one way they maintain a monopoly when it comes to being elected to political office. Most people resort to strategic voting (voting for the lesser of two evils).

This begs the question: is there an alternative?

The answer is yes. There are actually many alternatives that make up electoral reforms desperately needed for our country to become more democratic and to ensure those we vote for not only have a chance of winning, but that it will not inadvertently mean candidates we do not want elected, get elected.

One way to help us avoid this situation is to use instant run-off voting. Instant run-off voting is a preferential voting system where voters rank which candidate they want in order of who they want to see elected, from the most to the least. Then there are rounds of counting votes in which all votes are counted.

In the first round all the first preference votes are tabulated. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Then that candidate’s votes are redistributed according to the next preference of the voters. This process repeats itself until one candidate gets a majority of votes within the candidates remaining. This helps make the system fairer.

Another way to make elections fairer is putting limits on the use of personal funds in elections— both in personal wealth and from outside donations. Furthermore, we need to eliminate the Electoral College because representation should be based on population and thus the popular vote.

In addition, allowing for ballot access will give all candidates from every political party a chance to be voted on and elected. Moreover, since all citizens have the right to vote, incarcerated people in jails and prisons should not be disenfranchised. Also, access to media for candidates should be free and there should be equal access—including allowing third parties into the televised debates so more people can be exposed to their ideas too because that is only fair.

Another major problem for us as voters that makes the system unfair is the dominance of money and corporate influence in the electoral system. If people with a lot of money are able to donate to campaigns, when politicians get into office they are generally seen as owing those who donated to them political favors. How are politicians going to serve our needs when they are busy serving their big corporate donors? How is that democratic?
"A recent Los Angeles Times article stated that people who do not vote “are younger, poorer, less educated and more liberal than likely voters.” Imagine what would happen to our society if overnight those voters had a voice?" - Tina Phillips

One of the ways to free ourselves of corporate influence of elections is by providing public funding for candidates, which has also been called “clean elections.” This involves using tax payer money to fund elections so that any candidate can run no matter how much money they start off with. Under a clean election system, candidates who want to get public funding must first get qualifying donations from registered voters.

After collecting enough contributions they are given money from the government, but only after they sign an agreement not to take money from private donations. If opponents take corporate donations the “clean” candidates can get additional matching funds. This will allow for more candidates to run for office who represent our interests instead of those of corporations. Sadly, California voters have turned down measures to create publicly funded campaigns in the past. We should really think hard about how much our democracy is worth to us. This is a reform worth paying for upfront to break us of the hold that corporate-funded elections has on us now, which is actually much more costly in the long run.

The last and largest issue we have that stops us from being able have true representation and true change in our society is the way the system is set up as a winner-takes-all system. This is due to having single-member districts where one person (the person who got the most votes) is supposed to represent us all. Being as diverse as we are as a populace, that is simply not possible. To think that if one candidate gets just 51% of the vote that means 49% of us have to live with someone who does not represent us is just plain wrong. No wonder so many people just do not vote. They can see that their votes will not count. A recent Los Angeles Times article stated that people who do not vote “are younger, poorer, less educated and more liberal than likely voters.” Imagine what would happen to our society if overnight those voters had a voice?

Instead of living with this broken system we need what is used by most of the world’s democracies: proportional representation. The basic principle of proportional representation is that all political groups and parties in society need to be represented in our legislatures in proportion to the people who support them. So if say, 20% of America is truly supportive of the Green Party, then 20% of our legislators would be Green Party members. This would give everyone fair representation via multi-members being elected in a single district and finally we would all be free to vote the way we truly want to. Our elected officials will finally reflect the population they are supposed to and be able to serve us fully. That is true democracy.

Linda's Hearth note: Excellent article! I agree with this. Given the Supreme Court's promotion of "Corporate Personhood" within the year, when Corporations have already flooded the Beltway with visions of greed, I'm thinking there's a greatly expanding urgency for folks to become more active than ever! Our middle class, Americans' most equitable solution so far to balance past greed and gang-driven polity, so long in hatching, is slipping away before our eyes (whether we open these eyes or not). And America's true greatness, which depends on our diversity and spunk and civic activity, dies on the vine. But hopefully my cynicism is premature and Tina's ideas will find a growing following and it will surge within the next few years. ...

This entry was puplished on The Pioneer Online on Thursday, November 4th, 2010 at 4:08 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn't be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be equal and counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    The current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states, and not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution, ensure that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO-- 68%, IA --75%, MI-- 73%, MO-- 70%, NH-- 69%, NV-- 72%, NM-- 76%, NC-- 74%, OH-- 70%, PA -- 78%, VA -- 74%, and WI -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE --75%, ME -- 77%, NE -- 74%, NH --69%, NV -- 72%, NM -- 76%, RI -- 74%, and VT -- 75%; in Southern and border states: AR --80%, KY -- 80%, MS --77%, MO -- 70%, NC -- 74%, and VA -- 74%; and in other states polled: CA -- 70%, CT -- 74% , MA -- 73%, MN – 75%, NY -- 79%, WA -- 77%, and WV- 81%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These seven states possess 76 electoral votes -- 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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