Petition for better US elections

“A well-funded group called Americans Elect is planning to hold a national primary election on the Internet with the aim of nominating a centrist third-party candidate for president in 2012.” According to the Los Angeles Times, they are considering New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, or even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Assuming this gets off the ground – Bloomberg and Clinton are on the record as not wanting the job – the way the US elections are stacked, they could not win. Theoretically, though, a third party could play a role as a spoiler. George Wallace in 1968, John B. Anderson in 1980, H. Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 may have made a difference in their respective races.

There is a petition to the White House – did you know you could create an electronic petition to the White House? – to create a fairer voting method:

The voting system used by the US, called “plurality voting”, is notoriously flawed. Voters who favor a third-party candidate are forced into a dilemma: they can either vote sincerely and “waste” their vote on a third party, or vote defensively and pick the lesser of two evils.

Plurality voting suppresses new ideas and encourages campaigns built around negative attacks. The effect of this system is to virtually exclude all but two political parties (The last third-party president was elected in the 1850s).

The solution is well known and deceptively simple: rewrite our ballots to use a fair system such as “instant runoff voting”. This voting system is used in several US cities and worldwide with great success [see, for example, fairvote.org/what-is-irv].

There can never be a sustainable third-party movement in the United States as long as there is plurality voting. I support instant runoff voting as a viable option to the status quo. It can’t be implemented nationally in time for 2012, although it is already used in several locales in the United States and around the world.

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8 thoughts on “Petition for better US elections

  1. It’s great to see people involved. However, here in Canada we have more than two major parties vying for votes and this also presents problems. It sometimes seems as if once people get into office cooperation and the best interests of the country go out the window. Society needs people willing to give opposing teams a little credit, bump heads and brainstorm to solve problems rather than put ideology ahead of the country.

  2. I think that “Spoiler” is a bit of a strong word for those gentlemen:

    In 1968, the popular vote was VERY close, but the Electoral College vote wasn’t. Even if Wallace—the last candidate other than a Republican or Democrat to carry any states—had lost all 46 Electoral Votes, it’s unlikely Humphrey would’ve won.

    Still, the fact that there were more than a dozen states (three of them critical) in which Nixon’s victory margin was less than 5% tends to make the belief that Wallace was a spoiler persist. However, I believe that a far bigger factor was the Vietnam War; since HHH was Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President, he copped the negative attention and polled badly throughout the campaign.

    In 1980, if every one of Anderson’s votes had gone to Carter—which is highly improbable, since many of his votes came from moderate Republicans like me at the time—Reagan still would have won, so large was his landslide.

    In 1992, exit polls showed that Perot drew votes almost equally from Bush 1 and Clinton and that many people upset at Bush’s breaking his “no new taxes” pledge voted for Clinton. In 1996, Perot’s vote was much lower, but again he drew equally from Clinton and Dole—however, Clinton was Perot voters’ second choice.

    What all of this really means is that if the Electoral College was abolished, or at least made proportional, then third party and independent candidates might be spoilers or, at even have a shot at winning. As it is right now, as you say, they cannot win.

    Personally, I think IRV is an okay voting system when there’s no prortional representation, but I MUCH prefer the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system used in New Zealand as being fairer, more representative and so, much more democratic.

    By the way, since when is Evan Bayh is a moderate?!

    • I think that feelings about HHH were beginning to change, and he might have won in another week.
      MMP will be an even harder sell in the US than IRV. The idea of a Maori constituency, for example, would be blasted.

  3. The Maori seats have nothing to do with MMP: That’s part of our constitutional structure and were created in 1867, nearly 130 years before our first election under MMP.

    As for HHH, he was, indeed, going up in the polls once LBJ stopped his bombing campaign, which HHH had been demanding in the weeks ahead of that. By October 1968, LBJ was also close to obtaining a peace deal in Vietnam until Richard Nixon (allegedly) convinced the South Vietnamese they’d get a better deal from him. They walked, the talks collapsed and so did HHH’s support. LBJ was certainly convinced that Nixon had caused the collapse of the talks and privately accused him of treason. Mind you, a week more and maybe LBJ could have proven Nixon’s complicity (or leaked the suspicion, anyway).

    So, on balance, I still say it was the Vietnam War that was a bigger factor in HHH’s defeat than Wallace’s campaign was.

  4. It’s my opinion that it doesn’t matter what kind of voting system we have. Every candidate that takes office has been bought and paid for before they step foot in their office. It’s sad that the common man cannot run and win an election. The cost of running a campaign is completely out of control.

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