A Proposal for Electoral Reform
For far too long now, our electoral process has been broken. We often get candidates that are far too beholden to donors and not responsive to those who elected them. We also see a lot of good candidates pushed out of the picture because they refuse to play the “business as usual” games. While a significant part of the problem rests in our current “winner take all” system, there is a sizable amount of vitriol being lobbed at the caucus/convention system. I say it’s time for some blended reforms that take the best of all systems.
I’d like to offer some defense of the caucus system. While it does often reward party insiders, it allows candidates with a message but little funding to find some kind of traction. It also typically results in the most informed voters being most heavily involved. The chief criticism is that many candidates who may win in a general election do not get that chance as it can be gamed and shut a lot of candidates out in the cold.
So why not a primary? The problem with primaries is that instead of heavily lobbying 1500-ish delegates, you have to mass market to tens or hundreds of thousands of potential primary voters. This requires a lot of money and, again, shuts some candidates out of the process. It also does nothing to diminish the power of donor money on the final outcome.
While my preferred system for elections is instant runoff voting (IRV), it’s not without its own problems. Like a primary, you need a large amount of money, except moreso since you have to survive until the general election instead. The upside is that instead of voting for a “lesser of many evils” candidate, you can pick your favorite and have a fallback position. This removes the “viability” argument from elections and gives what would previously be considered “long-shot” candidates a fighting chance.
What I’d like to propose is a hybrid of some of the best ideas of each of these with IRV serving as the base.
First, let’s allow any candidate to have ballot access so long as they are willing to file the appropriate paperwork and pay the appropriate fees. This would immediately increase the number of ballot choices in all elections and likely encourage more non-partisan candidates. Right now, non-partisan candidates must collect 1,000 signatures for a statewide office and 300 signatures for any other office. While this can be accomplished, it is a significant barrier to entry.
Second, let’s keep the caucus and convention system, but only as a means of endorsement. Any political party should be able to endorse one candidate on the ballot, and that endorsement should appear on the ballot along with the candidate’s affiliation, if any. This allows the political parties some influence over the election process, but no real control of the ballot itself. As much as I would like to pretend that voters do extensive research on all candidates before making their selection, I think we all know this to largely be a fiction. Party endorsement and affiliation still has a place.
Third, and biggest, let’s mix this all up with IRV. By allowing you to rank the candidates in order of preference, there is no such thing as a “wasted” vote, and keeping a broad base of support as a second or third choice can propel a candidate to victory. With both party affiliation and endorsement displayed next to each candidate, this can provide some additional information to voters to help them make a decision. Rep. John Dougall is already taking a small step by allowing cities to pick IRV for their municipal elections, and the convention system already uses it.
Will this change every election? No, not likely. It may not even change any at all. That said, it is a lot fairer to candidates and voters to at least put the options on the table.