Maine just showed us how to fix our elections

Instant Runoff

Did you feel like in this election you were forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils”?

Do you feel like the two major parties, Republicans and Democrats, hold our government hostage by forcing you to either “waste your vote” on a third party candidate or to vote on the party line?

I did, and I do in every election. And in my opinion, the most important thing that happened in yesterday’s election was Maine’s “Question 5”, in which the state voted to institute a superior voting system that will fix the above problems, which in turn will give us a more perfect democracy in which all votes truly count.

Maine voted to start using the so-called “Instant-Runoff Voting” or “Ranked Choice Voting”, which means that instead of choosing only one candidate, you rank your choices in order of preference. Sounds simple but it has world-changing ramifications. It means that you can safely vote based on your TRUE feelings, without worrying about wasting your vote.

Example

Say for example you write in Jon Stewart as your first choice, select Ron Paul as your second, Arnold Schwarzenegger as your third, and Jesse Ventura as fourth and last. This is the “ranked choice”.

They count all the first choice votes. Jon Stewart, your write-in candidate, got only a few votes. So he is eliminated, and any ballots that had him as first are now counted again with their second choice. This is the “Instant Runoff”. Importantly, if you ONLY wrote in that one choice (you don’t have to choose more than one if you don’t want to), then now your vote doesn’t count for anyone. So it makes more sense to rank as many candidates as possible.

So now they count the vote again. Ron Paul gets a respectable 35% of the remaining vote. That’s not a majority of the remaining vote, so Paul is thrown out of the race, and anyone who chose Paul as their top vote in that round (including you, in this scenario), gets re-counted with their next choice.

Let’s say some people only voted for Paul, and that’s it. Their votes no longer count in this scenario. This is the part that opponents deride about this system. They say that it’s unfair to those people. I mathematically disagree because in this scenario, your vote has had TWO chances to count, and COULD have had more if you had chosen to make more choices. So it’s really up to each voter how much of a chance they want to give their vote to count. In the standard voting system we all use, your vote is thrown out instantly if it doesn’t agree with the plurality[1].

So now they count the next round of votes, and of the two candidates remaining, Arnold gets 60% of the remaining votes. So Arnold wins. Maybe he would have won anyway, in a “normal” system. But Ron Paul would have gotten close to 0% of the vote because of the fear of vote-wasting. In this scenario, he got 35%.

Then again, maybe Arnold would have lost because of “spoiler” candidates, in a “normal” system. But in this, more fair, scenario he got elected by being the most preferable among the various ranked options delcared by the voters.

Fallout

The most important part about this is that it frees us from the tyranny of the two-party system. The two-party system evolved as the primary strategy for garnering power because it is clearly the best strategy in our current voting system. It is a product of our voting system. A third party will never be viable under our voting system because the it is designed such that the two-party system is the only winning strategy. In order to free ourselves, we have to change the voting system.

Maine has led the way. This is akin to Vermont being the first state to legalize gay marriage, or Colorado being the first state to legalize marijuana. Maine is the first to fix the voting system, and it should sweep the country in the coming years. We should watch what happens there closely, and if the opportunity to change the voting system in my city, state, or country ever comes up, I will jump at the chance to vote “Yes”.

[1] Plurality is different from majority. Our current system is a plurality system, not a majority system. Did you notice that the final vote count in a lot of states and even in the country was something like 48% to 49%? 49% is not a majority, but since it is more than 48%, it is a plurality.

JeffGran
Published:

2016-10-9