Ending the "Vote Against" Effect

As we discussed earlier, this year's presidential election is more of a "vote against" than any in recent history. There's some logic that the first-past-the-post voting system we have was part of why Donald Trump got the GOP nod, even though a majority of Republicans voted against him (for the first time in a very, very long time). 

Those considering a third-party vote aren't fools to write it off: there are strong strategic incentives for a tactical vote (the Wikipedia article explains in detail why the incentives are twisted) in order to prevent the candidate you like least from getting elected, rather than voting for the person you're most excited about.

If it feels like the way we vote is pretty messed up, you're not crazy. If you aren't happy with Clinton and Trump, or your Congressional candidates, as options, there are ways to change this. 

I try to avoid advocating for particular policy positions, but I'll take a break from that because I want to talk about a policy about elections, rather than about political preferences. There are two policy positions I'd like to advocate, and if you agree with them, I encourage you to get involved.

Open Primaries

In Wedged, we briefly discuss the power of open primaries in helping prevent the most hardcore partisans from dominating the primary system. Such domination leads to two candidates that most Americans aren't that excited about, and sets up incentives for them to only represent their party's die-hards.

Open Primaries would let any voter cast a ballot in either party's primary. It means that each party would have to reach out to the entire population to move onto the final round (the actual election), therefore being far more representative of their districts--even in districts that have most people registered as one party.

You can get involved at openprimaries.org, either as an advocate, op-ed writer, or donor.

Ranked Choice Voting

The first-past-the-post voting system we have means that only two parties will ever really be in contention. This structure is governed by what's called "Duverger's Law," which is a political science concept rather than legislation.

If you want more competitive parties, you need to change the voting structure. One option--which might come into play in Maine--is Ranked Choice Voting, AKA Instant Runoff.

Here's how it works: you rank N candidates from 1 to N. 1 is your top choice, followed by others. So let's say you prefer Jill Stein, but really don't like Johnson or Trump. You could vote Stein #1, Clinton #2, Johnson #3, Trump #4. It goes other ways, as well.

When the votes get tallied, they count up all the #1's. Whoever has the least of these initial votes is removed, and their ballots are reprocessed for the #2 choices. This keeps going until someone has a majority of votes.

The upshot is that voting for your top choice isn't a half-vote for your bottom choice: if your top choice is eliminated, your #2 vote goes towards your second-favorite candidate. You can see how the incentives would change: people would be able to vote for who they wanted most without fear of electing the party they don't like, so there is less reason not to vote for a 3rd party. The choice in the election would increase significantly.

Of course, it's the kind of thing that Republicans and Democrats in legislature are less-than-likely to support. So it's gotta happen from the ground up.

The organization that I know best (and really like) that does this is called FairVote. They're pushing RCV/IR in Maine, and might be successful. They can also teach you more about how it works, and where it's being used. 

They also are working on multi-candidate Congressional districts with RCV rules, which would have a similar effect. 

You can donate to them, and tell your friends to do the same. They're a take-action kind of group, and I like that.

Why You Can Make a Difference

How you vote is actually determined by the rules of your state. This means that your power for change is much higher, for two reasons. First, you're a bigger portion of the electorate in that state. Second, your legislature is likely less dysfunctional than the US Congress.

So if you're looking for ways that you can make a serious difference in the gridlock and polarization of the country, these are two ways to do it. I hope you'll join me in getting involved.


1 Comment

Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.