The State of U.S. Elections
- Our politics is broken and divided. On the national level, Washington is replete with career politicians who, on the whole, win on polarizing campaigns and fail to unify the country. They exist on both sides of the aisle, and they are hurting our ability to function as a democracy.
- Many of these issues result from the system these individuals used to win office: single-member district plurality elections (often called “First Past the Post”), often gerrymandered so they can have a constituency that matches their views.
- Recently, some activists have taken to changing the system of elections in cities and school boards. While their efforts have made politics better in some ways, their solutions have not been innovative enough; and thus, politics has not dramatically improved in the places where these advocates have been successful. It is helpful to see the ways in which all these systems have not delivered for the American people to see the ways we can change the system, for the better and together.
Categorical Elections – Checking Boxes
When casting their ballots, Americans are usually given a list of candidates at the local, state and federal level, and asked to do one of two things: check off one box for their representatives to Congress and the statehouse, and check off one or a few boxes for their local representatives. These two systems have two different names, First Past the Post Voting and Approval Voting, but they both have the same major limitation: they do not give people the option to fully express their priorities preferences for who represents them.
Only being able to check off one box for each seat hurts voters who happen to like someone outside the two most-popular candidates, or like more than one candidate, or any scenario. For instance, in the first case, you risk “wasting” your vote, because it may not affect the final outcome — or worse, it may end up helping to elect the person you like least. In the second case, elections are always going to limit your liberty to make your choice, since the ballot is asking you to exclude all the other candidates you may like from the ballot. Both of these factors tend to advantage a two-party system, and it is this structure of modern elections that has created an unappetizing political climate which has been harmful enough to make people give up on voting, on elections, and on government.
A similar problem happens in Approval Voting when you can check off boxes for multiple people. Even though you may support two candidates to different extents or for very different reasons, you have to give them each the same checkmark if you want them in office. While this does encourage candidates to get a certain level of support from the public, by no means does it need to be a broad level of support: just like first past the post, it encourages candidates to seek out the narrowest majority. This will happen so long as people do not have the chance to rank their preferences: politicians will only have an incentive to win their narrowest possible voter base, and no one will make the effort to reach across the aisle.