Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rank Order Voting for President

(None of the following ideas are original, but I believe they deserve greater publicity). There are a number of problems with the current system of selecting a new president of the United States. Due to the electoral college, only the votes in swing states matter, effectively disenfranchising voters from the rest of the country. States like Maine, Nebraska, and Colorado addressed this by splitting up their electoral delegates, but why have delegates at all. From Wikipedia, "The Electoral College dilutes the votes of population centers that might have different concerns from the rest of the country. The system is supposed to require presidential candidates to appeal to many different types of interests, rather than, say, the urban or rural voter only" ( ). The problem is that in the current system the interests of non-swing state voters can be safely ignored (which happens to be most of the country).

And due to the staggered primaries, only about 6% of the voters get a chance to affect who the main candidates will be in the general election (voters in New Hampshire, Iowa, and maybe South Carolina) because by the time the primaries in those states are over, the losing candidates tend to drop out. Furthermore, people tend to weigh the electability of a candidate in a general election quite heavily as opposed to simply choosing who they would really like to be president. Additionally, primaries are expensive, limit choices, and effectively shut out third party candidates.

I support a better alternative - do away with the electoral college so that every vote counts, and do away with the primaries. The concern with having no primary has been that there would be too many candidates for the general election, effectively splitting the votes into small fractions, wherein no candidate would obtain a clear majority. If we declared as the winner the candidate with the most votes, he or she might only represent the desires and interests of a large minority. People would still need to vote for the candidate they believe has the best chance of beating their opponent as opposed to simply voting for who they really want. That problem could be remedied with a run-off election, but that would make the first general election a primary.

But, there is a way to hold only one general election, and yet select the candidate who appeals to the majority (i.e., greater than 50% of the voters). This could be done with a rank-order election. Each voter would be given a ballot with the names of all the candidates. The voter would only need to give a ranking to the candidates they would want as president. Out of just the candidates that the voter wants, the voter would rank order their preferences by placing "1" by their favorite candidate and "2" by their second, and so on for as many candidates that they want to give a ranking to. The votes are tallied by counting the total number of "1" votes each candidate has. If one candidate has more than 50% of the "1" votes, then he or she is the winner. However, if no candidate has more than 50% of the "1" votes (which is quite likely) then the two candidates with the most "1" votes advance to the next round. Then, for each ballot, the candidate among those two, who received the highest ranking, gets 1 vote. The results are tallied, and the candidate with the most votes wins.


C.L. Hanson said...

I'm with you on this. I've written about it on my blog too:

Confessions of a former Nader voter, part 1 and part 2.

Hüffenhardt said...

I very much enjoyed those threads. It seems that you had a few responders who were concerned about radical democracy, like what happened in Missouri in the 1830's. In the 1830's Missouri, majority ruled even to the discrimination and oppression of minorities.

The great thing about the US Bill of Rights, is that it has some safeguards to protect against the abuses of the majority. Now we can add or change amendments by what is in effect a super-majority. But, if things ever get bad enough that a super-majority want to change the constitution to oppress the minority, then there is not much one can do in almost any system of government.

Trusting a pure majority with the safeguards of the Bill of Rights is a lot safer than trusting the voters of a few swing states.

Even if the ideas in my original post were implemented, we would remain a republic in that the voters don't vote on every bill or policy, we vote for representatives who supposedly educate themselves on every issue and vote as their constituency would like them to (hahaha).

The current system disenfranchises too many voters. Perhaps 100 candidates on a ballot is a bit too much. We could solve that problem by having candidates show interest by some minimum number of registered voters before they could be put on the ballot.

Bull said...

Ok. So what would the effect of eliminating the electoral college be? If you think it through it actually makes the disenfranchisement situation worse and would result in rural populations becoming even less significant than they are now. Assuming population trends continue then candidates would only need to pander to large population centers.

The electoral college is part of the large/small state compromises that gave us a Senate where every state has equal representation and the House where representation is based on population, but which still guarantees at last one seat per state.

As far as eliminating primaries, I disagree that it would be a positive. You left a related topic: winner takes all. Both of these are anti-democratic and with good reason. The current system forces compromise and centrism and eliminates small kingmakers. All you need to do is look at countries with systems like this to see the consequences. For example, while I was in Bolivia they had a presidential election with over 100 candidates. It was chaos. All the candidates where extremists pandering to their minority and were completely unwilling to compromise on anything. The result was an inability for anyone to get a majority and throwing the selection into parliament where strange coalitions had to be formed that sometimes gave very small radical groups a lot more power than their base should warrant. While our system isn't great, I think it's worlds ahead of the alternative.

Hüffenhardt said...

I just remembered that I never replied to your comment. I will do that within the next few days, but right now I wanted to report on some news.

Maryland just made a move to get rid of the electoral college if they can get enough states to follow their lead:

Anonymous said...

Too complicated. Introduce too many numbers into the ballot and anyone counting them will have issues. Then we can have lawsuits and recounts forever.