Should the U.S. adopt alternative, pro-multipartisan voting systems?

Yes and no. The system that I described is pure, single-transferable-vote proportional representation. (I used the term "proportional voting, rather than “proportional representation,” so that it clearly refers to proportional input rather than a proportional outcome. Some people mistakenly assume that “proportional representation” refers to some kind of guaranteed quota-based result.)

Instant-runoff voting, as long as the voter can rank an unlimited number of preferences, is actually just a special case of proportional representation–the case where the number of representatives being elected is one.

I’m always surprised how many people would trash the Electoral College because it “violates the one man one vote” principle. The Senate is a MUCH worse violator of this principle, but not many people are ready to get rid of it. The reason that the president is elected by the States, and not directly by the people, is that the founding principle of the US was that the State should be the primary governing body that people have to deal with. The fed gov’t was supposed to be much more limmited. It may seem anachronistic, but I like the founding principle and I’d stick with it.

In his 1995 book, “The Next American Nation,” Michael Lind recommended that the U.S. House of Representatives be elected by multi-member-district PR, and the Senate by party-list PR. I like that. The House would continue to keep a link with small geographical constituencies, and provide the indispensable pipeline for porkbarrel. (Who really wants to do away with porkbarrelling entirely?) The Senate, on the other hand, would be completely divorced from local constituencies, even on a statewide level, and it would become a truly national house of leading politicians of national status – a true “upper house.”

Actually, I think an even better idea would be to abolish the Senate entirely and devolve all its powers and functions on the House of Representatives – a one-house Congress would have much more effective strength as against the executive branch, which is exactly what we need at this stage in our history – but that’s another discussion.

In any case, there is absolutely no defense for the continued existence of the Senate in its present form, other than, yes, it is in the Constitution, and cannot be changed without a constitutional amendment – which even the underpopulated, overrepresented states would have to approve. I won’t hold my breath.

However, Lind makes a good legal case that the House could be transformed to a multi-district PR body by simple legislation, without a constitutional amendment.

Actually, I have a defense of the Senate. :slight_smile: It slows down the legislative process, with things like unlimited debate and the traditions of the Senate. Also, with its longer terms, it’s less subject to public opinion than the House, where everybody’s always up for election in less than two years. So, it can help prevent bills from being passed on the spur of the moment based on temporary popularity. (In theory, at least. As everybody knows, the Senate can be just as easily swayed as the House by something that’s photogenic and immediately popular. But, every once in a while, you get a senator who sticks his neck out on an important issue on principle. If he’s lucky, as well, his head doesn’t get cut off.)

The Senate also does protect the small states. If Congress is debating the “Let’s Nuke Wyoming Bill”, the Wyoming representative is only one out of 435, and doesn’t have much a voice. However, in the Senate, Wyoming has 1/50th of the power, and its a lot more likely that the interests of the state are heard.

The Senate also makes sure that there are people who care about the interests of the state as a whole, and not just their own district. In the House, a delegate from say, Northern Virginia, can say “I know this bill is going to hurt the people of Norfolk, but fuck the people of Norfolk. They can’t vote for me” and vote for the bill that helps his district. The Senator, on the other hand, has to pay attention to both Northern Virginia and Norfolk, and can’t “rob Peter to pay Paul”. He’s forced to take the wider view.

The fourth positive of the Senate (and, from some of the views in this thread, you might not think it’s so positive), is that it moderates extreme views. It’s usually easier for a crackpot to get elected to the House. There are fewer people he has to convince. The larger number of people who vote for a Senator, though, means that the Senator’s views are going to be more in line with that of the country as a whole. Also, with the larger pool of voters, election fraud and fixing races is harder, and the Senator is less indebted to activist and special interest groups.

How can yousaythat!?

Of course the system is broken! If the sysem weren’t broken, Al Gore would be in the White House today, for any one of several reasons. If the system were not broken:

> We would not have the Electoral College. Whoever got the most votes would be the winner. There is something very wrong with a system in which any other outcome is possible.

> A person convicted of a crime would have all his or her civil liberties restored once they had served their sentence. Including the right to vote.

> We would have gotten rid of punch card ballots decades ago.

> No new ballot design would be adopted without though testing to make sure that virtually all voters would understand it and be able to successfully vote for the candidate they wanted to vote for.

BrainGlutton, I agree with you on all points. We really, really need IRV and PR. I wasn’t familiar with fusion, but it sounds like a good idea.

brainglutton! You get it! Yes, that’s exactly the story re the abortion issue. At either end of the spectrum, you have a minority, one that wants it to be utterly outlawed no matter what the circumstances, and one that wants any woman or girl (of any age) who wants an abortion to be able to get one, no questions asked. In between are many, many opinions about what is or is not a “good reason” to have an abortion, at what point in the pregnancy does abortion become wrong, etc. The US is really not polarized on this issue.

Also agree with your 2nd paragraph.

P.S. Great post, brianmelendez!

PR would in general appear to change the current system, where we vote for people , to one where we vote for idealogies . I’m not necessarily sure that’s a good thing.

Fusion voting just plain makes sense - if two parties want to support the same candidate, why shouldn’t they be able to?

I know I don’t like IRV, but I’m not able to articulate exactly why and have it make sense, so I’m going to avoid that for the moment :stuck_out_tongue:

“The cruelest dream, reality.”

I don’t mind Fusion voting - people and groups of people should be able to throw in their support to any candidate they want to. But other than that, I don’t see any reason to change the current system. It has worked pretty well for over 200 years, and unless the current voting system becomes a major problem in the future, I just don’t see any reason to change from what we are familar with.

I guess I’m not clear on how IRV, PR, or ballot fusion would address any of the issues you’ve mentioned above, Hazel. I mean, they’re all, except for the bit about the electoral college, problems with either who we allow how to vote or the mechanics of actually placing your vote, right? And I don’t really see that having an electoral college automatically implies a two-party system either. Nor, for that matter, am I convinced that the electoral college is a completely useless thing which makes the system broken.

As for the three possibilities mentioned, I don’t mind ballot fusion at all, and would welcome the change, but it’s rather well down on my list of important things to worry about. Personally, I detest the idea of PR, because I want someone who’s my representative, not someone who represents free trade or something. That’s probably not really being fair to PR, but on this one I’m with Neurotik. I would love to see IRV, just because it would give me the chance to vote my conscience and not throw away my vote. Although I recognize that not everyone who opposes IRV just wants a rubber-stamp for the anointed monarch.

But is the polarisation of American politics a symptom or a cause of the two party system?

You know, American politics aren’t just divided into two parties. There is a lot of different groups within thos two parties. Moreover, the nature of American politics demands that popular issues will be picke up by major parties. For example, the Environmental movements became popular within the democratic party. Poeple bring issuies with them; parties are not mere black boxes.

Anyway, I think I prefer the stability of American government. We have a somewhat unique way of doing things, I like to de-emphasize the importance of parties, as our system does. Individual voices get heard more, and people are less likely to kowtow to a party line in America.

In other words, I don’t think this represents any improvement on the current system in any way.

I can’t believe that anyone is in favor of PR, especially someone who talks about wanting fair elections. How is an election supposed to be fair if I have to vote for a party and not a candidate again? Simply stating that Europe does it that way or that teachers lied about voting systems doesn’t cut it; explain to me why I would want to give up having a representative with ties to me in office, to give up being able to vote based on a candidate and to instead choose between vague party platforms, and to give fringe groups who manage to rake in >5% of the vote a very powerful ability to run my life?

There is something very wrong with a system in which politicians can pander to a few big cities, completely ignore everyone else, and win the election. That is the biggest problem with getting rid of the EC; presently candidates must appeal to people across the country in order to win the presidency. Without the EC, they can appeal strongly to limited groups of people and win, leaving the others completely unrepresented. And as gets pointed out in every single discussion on the Electoral College, the person who gets the most votes is the winner.

So, you’d allow people who’d been convicted of a felony or of domestic violence to own firearms? That’s an unusual position for someone who claims that Gore won the election.

g8rguy and DreadCthulhu – I do think there is much wrong with our system. In the post that g8rguy commented on, I was responding to the statement that our system isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing. Was this off-topic? I don’t think so. We can’t change anything if people don’t percieve the need for change.

Riboflavin, I do think that all civil rights should be restored once the person has served his or her sentence. In some cases of violent crime, however, it might be a good idea to make permenent loss of the right to bear arms part of the sentence. But surely restoration of the right to vote upon completion of one’s sentence should be automatic?

Consider an election where the candidates of the Big Two parties each get 40-something percent of the vote, and two or three minor party candidates each get small percentages. One of the Big Two guys is probably at least slightly ahead of the other. But with our present system, we have a winner who got less than 50% of the vote. More than 1/2 the voters voted against him. They were divided as to who they did want, but they were in agreement that they didn’t want him.

One way to solve this problem would be to have a runoff election whenever the front runner has less than 51% of the vote. An even better solution, IMO, would be IRV. It avoids the trouble and expense of holding another election, and it also solves another problem: the strategic voting problem, where people feel that they can’t vote for the candidate they like best. Instead, they feel compelled to vote for the candidate most likely to be able to defeat the candidate they like least.

We all saw this in the 2000 Presidential election. People who wanted Nader felt they had to vote for Gore in order to deny vitory to Bush. People who wanted Buchanan felt they had to vote for Bush in order to deny victory to Gore.

I think that minor party candidates are here to stay. In the future, I suspect that most Presidential elections will turn out to have a winner who got less than 51% of the vote. The Big Two are very evenly matched. Without the minor parties, we’d probably get a result along the lines of 52% to 48%. With the minor parties in the picture, the result is likely to be 40-something per cent for each of the Big Two, and the rest going to the small fry.

I also don’t like the way the deck is stacked against the small fry. I want to see them get a fair chance: no nearly-impossible hurdles to getting on the ballot, inclusion in any televised debates, etc.


I think that, if the topic could be graphed in two dimensions, the curve would be far more Bactrian than Dromedary.


Captain Amazing and Hazel gave examples.


"Should the U.S. adopt alternative, pro-multipartisan voting systems? "

No. The U.S. should adopt a better voting system (e.g. approval voting), and perhaps change some of the campaign laws.

The “lesser evil” voting system produces candidates just as good as any other. Whether good or evil, a party is constrained by the need to get elected. This comptition will encourage the parties to be less evil than the other. “More good” vs. “less evil” is analogous to “more heat” vs. “less cold” or “more perfect” vs. “less flawed”.

Also note that the more parties we have, the fewer people will be represented by whoever is in power. I certainly wouldn’t want to see the sort of coalition governments like we see in Israel, where a small group of hard-core nut jobs can topple a PM. But if a mere plurality gets to have the presidency or set the agenda in congress, then a super-majority of citizens are now no longer represented. I think two parties represents a good balance–there’s enough competition to prevent dictatorship, but enough concentration to ensure most voters being represented.

I think third parties play an important role in the U.S. in that flight to a third party can signal a change in public opinion/needs that has heretofore been missed by the two main parties, who can then adjust to become more inclusive. However, I don’t see how encouraging fringe candidates to have a bigger role in government is necessarily a good thing.

You make many good points, js, but I’d like to add to this one. The way we have our parties set up right now, any serious third party issues that are addressed are addressed rather slowly. The result is that change in our nation is a very gradual thing. Sometimes, this may be bad, but in general this leads to a very stable and evolutionary society. Quick, radical changes rarely do anyone any good, and such changes would be quite vulnerable to undoing even if they were beneficial.

Our nation and its governmental system is a big, sluggish oaf on most matters (note that even our “rush to war” was 18 months in the making), but it’s that way for a reason.

So with the exception of Fusion Voting, which seems like a good (if very obvious) idea, put me in the “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” camp.

Like ElJeffe said. I disagree with his analysis a bit, though. I don’t think the current system works slowly in the larger scale. In the immediate sense, its not happening NOW NOW NOW! Yet, I suspect that over a ten-year period, more and more effective legal changes and statutes are created in the US than in most other Western democracies. Also, the delays in policy prvide a slower thinking pattern that tends to promote better long-term policy, and less attention to temporary whims of the electorate.

So what you’re saying is that you don’t stand by your statement that all of someone’s civil rights should be restored once they’ve served their sentence? And why can’t permanent loss of the right to vote be part of someone’s sentence too? If you’re going to propose a sweeping reform of how lawmakers are elected in America and go on about how the current system is broken because your candidate lost the last election, at least be consistent on what you say is broken and how you’d fix it.

And IRV has its own problems - it’s been proven that no election system is perfectly fair (in the sense of converting individual preferences to group preferences). It’s easy to construct a case where Gore is a lot of people’s second choice, but he gets removed because he’s not one of the two winners in the primary election. IRV also doesn’t allow a vote against a candidate (like the present system), there’s no way to say ‘I don’t really care which of these 3 guys win but I don’t want that guy to win.’ Since…

…in order to win an election, you need to appeal to more than a tiny percentage of the population, you have to appeal to the population as a whole, which Nader and Buchannan clearly do not do. I can’t work up any interest in reworking the US electoral system to accomidate what are clearly fringe viewpoints; going to IRV appears mainly to be so that people can say “I voted for Nader” while effectively voting for Gore, which I find rather silly. If you’re talking about fundamentally changing the constitution of the united states, I think you need something better than that as a justification.

And why do you leave off Browne, who was IIRC on more presidential ballots than Nader and who got more votes than Buchannan?

No, because if neither candidate gets less than 51% of the vote then the election goes to congress. And if you’re talking popular vote, your ‘prediction’ is just saying that you expect what has happened in the past to happen again.

Cite, please. Let’s face it, in reality there are no nearly-impossible hurdles to getting on the ballot for parties that have some chance of actually winning an election. In North Carolina, one of the hardest states to get on the ballot of, the Libertarian Party had more ballot slots than real candidates (and, BTW, were the only third party on the ballot). Getting some signatures saying ‘put these guys on the ballot’ is just not that difficult if your party has even a remote chance of winning an election.

So, now you oppose the freedom of the press, since televised debates aren’t government functions? And why should anyone waste thier time with candidates who clearly don’t appeal to remotely enough of the population to win an election, when their valuable airtime can be spent on those who might win?

Riboflavin, I agree with much of what you have to say, but this…**

is in my mind precisely the reason to at least consider IRV. Not that it doesn’t add complications, and not that it’s perfectly fair, of course, but I see value in being able to make it clear who one would really prefer to win the election without making it effectively easier for the person who one would really hate to win the election to slip on into the Oval Office.

I just find it unfortunate right now that being able to say “I voted for Nader” is effectively equivalent to voting for Bush, and similarly with other minority parties. In the end, I think the choices with IRV will still come down to Republican or Democrat, and that’s as I think it should be because I think the government ought to be centrist, but I see value in being able to make the symbolic gesture.

I just noticed this statement. I believe it to be blatantly false on its face. Heck, the Republcan party didn’t exist until the 1850’s, but which time more than half the country had been populated. The Democrats don’t fae much better. In any event, there were not really parties as we understand them when the early templates for our current state constitutions were formed.