Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Creating an Open Electoral Process

by JOHN B. ANDERSON

 

Ralph Nader’s announcement of his independent candidacy brings back memories. In 1980, I ran for president as an independent after abandoning the Republican primaries. Even though polling near 25 percent when declaring my candidacy, I was labeled a spoiler. My candidacy was said to deprive voters of the clear choice between incumbent Jimmy Carter and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. Never mind that my platform clearly attracted many people uncomfortable with this choice.

Ever since then I have grappled with how we can structure our electoral system to accommodate an increase in choices and the better dialogue and greater voter participation coming with those choices. Having an election between two candidates is obviously better than a one-party dictatorship, but having an election among more than two candidates is better than a two-party duopoly.

The American people know this. When Ross Perot ran for president in 1992, viewership of the presidential debates soared, and voter turnout rose sharply in nearly every state. When he was shut out of the 1996 debates, polls showed that Americans wanted him in the debates by a margin of three to one. In 2000, a majority of Americans wanted to include the Green Party’s Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan in the debates.

But there is a fundamental, if easily correctable, problem with our electoral process. We use a plurality voting system where voting for your favorite candidate can contribute directly to the election of your least favorite.

Unlike most democracies, our states have set up presidential elections so that the candidate with the most votes wins all electoral votes, even if opposed by a majority of voters. That makes third-party or independent candidates “spoilers” if they split a major party candidate’s vote. It’s this concern that drives the major parties to exclude other voices from the debates, and for the current condemnation of Ralph Nader for entering the presidential race.

Fortunately, there’s a solution, one already practiced for top offices in London, Ireland and Australia and in Utah and California for key elections: instant runoff voting. Any state could adopt this simple reform immediately for all federal elections, including the presidential race. There has been legislation backing instant runoff voting in nearly two dozen states, and former presidential candidates Howard Dean and John McCain advocate the system.

In instant runoff voting, people vote for their favorite candidate, but also can indicate subsequent choices by ranking their preferences as 1, 2, 3. If a candidate receives a majority of first choices, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and a second round of counting occurs. In this round, your ballot counts for your top-ranked candidate still in the race. Rounds of counting continue until there is a majority winner.

With instant runoff voting, we would determine a true majority winner in one election and banish the spoiler concept. Voters would not have to calculate possible perverse consequences of voting for their favorite candidate. They could vote their hopes, not their fears.

Under this system, progressives who like Nader but worry about George Bush could rank Nader first and the Democrat second. Similarly, libertarian-minded conservatives upset with the Republican party’s positions on government spending could rank the Libertarian nominee first and Bush second. Rather than contributing to a major party candidates’ defeat, these candidates instead could stimulate debate and mobilize new voters.

Our primitive voting system is this year’s biggest spoiler. Instant runoff voting would give us a more participatory, vital democracy, where candidates could be judged on their merits and the will of the majority would more certainly prevail.

JOHN B. ANDERSON served in Congress from 1961 to 1981 and was an independent presidential candidate in 1980. He is president of the Center for Voting and Democracy and can be contacted at: PO Box 60037, Washington, DC 20039.

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]