The Problem with the Current System
Millions of Americans are fed up with the two-party dichotomy that dominates our congressional and presidential elections and deprives the country of alternative choices.
I think that a large part of the solution is a new voting system that would replace the current run-off method of electing candidates.
In the current run-off system we only get to mark our top choice. This is called a Plurality Voting system, or more informally, “first-past-the-post”. In this scenario there is no nuance or accounting for candidates upon which the population can compromise. Independents and third-party candidates have no chance of winning for two reasons:
1) Although a majority of voters might compromise on such a candidate by considering them a second choice, they are not necessarily most voters’ first choice.
2) People who do prefer third-party candidates often worry, justifiably, that their preferred candidate won’t get enough votes to defeat the major parties, but they also prefer or dislike one of those major parties more than the other. So, not wanting their vote to be wasted, they will often vote for the candidate from a major party who they think will most likely garner enough total votes to defeat the candidate they most dislike. This phenomenon understandably frustrates Libertarians and many Independents to no end. These voters thus commonly forgo selecting their favorite candidate who they think is best for the country, and instead are simply voting against who they think is worst. This is referred to as “strategic voting” and it is a result of the design of the “choose one” voting system we currently use.
To better reflect the peoples’ actual preferences and get us beyond the 2-party system, we can adopt what is called an Approval Voting System.
Using a system of Approval Voting, voters are not limited to choosing one candidate to vote for. They can select all the candidates they prefer, then leave blank the boxes next to any candidates they most dislike. This way, supporters of third-party candidates are free to vote for their first choice, and voters who are even more concerned with ensuring that their least favorite candidate does not win even more than hoping that their favorite candidate does win, are incentivized to vote equally for the candidate they like most as well as their second option, which are most likely third-party candidates and moderates. This incentive exists because more people supporting these candidates in addition to their first choice means that their least favorite candidates are even less likely to win, without them needing to rank their favorite candidate lower than one they prefer less.
Under this system, third party candidates like Libertarians, Greens, or moderate Independents who can represent the true political beliefs of the country as a whole, would be more likely to win major elections since the second-choices of all voters will now be accounted for.
This can help undermine the flawed paradigm of voters conceptualizing our political choices as a strict left-or-right, Republican-or-Democrat body of policies, and in turn provide more flexibility for people to support different sets of ideas that better reflect their actual opinions.
There are of course other systems than Approval Voting, and some people have advocated for these systems often because they enable voters to indicate which candidates they prefer more than others, instead of marking them equally as is done under Approval Voting, However these all have more signficant drawbacks which is why I support the Approval system instead. This is a short explanation of some alternative systems and why they are inferior:
Borda Voting: A simple ranking system where the voter ranks the candidates in order of preference. The candidates receive points in direct proportion to what they are ranked by voters and the candidate with the most points wins. This system seems simple and ideal, since order of preference is fully taken into account, however it actually suffers the same problem as Plurality Voting: people are incentivized to mark that they prefer a stronger candidate in order to prevent their least favorite candidate from winning, even if their top choice is actually someone else. This defeats the point of the ranking system and again skews us toward 2-party dominance.
Instant Runoff Voting: Like in the Borda system, voters rank all candidates in order of preference. But instead of just assigning points to each candidate according to what they were ranked, the number of times each candidate was marked as a first choice is counted. If any one candidate has more than 50% of those first choice votes, they win. But if not, then the candidate who was ranked as a first choice the fewest number of times is eliminated and all the ballots that marked him her her as a first choice are looked at again and votes are assigned to the next most preferable choice marked on each ballot. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote. You can watch a visual demonstration of how Instant Runoff voting works in this video.
Unfortunately though, in this system the second choices which get accounted for are those of the voters whose favorite candidate is eliminated before the runoff between the final two. The full range of voters’ preferences is never taken into account. This means that candidates upon which a majority of all voters would compromise still have almost no chance of winning. Votes just get funneled toward the two major candidates, thus once again producing a situation where the largest parties dominate every election and people who most prefer the less popular candidates who offer positions on which the majority can compromise, are incentivized to instead support one of the major parties in order to prevent their least favorite candidate from winning.
Score Voting: Instead of ranking candidates in order of preference, voters simply give each candidate a score of 1-10 to indicate their level of approval for that candidate, then the candidate with the highest total score among all the ballots wins. The benefit of this system is that it accounts for the full range of all voters’ preference like the Borda system, but also enables voters to indicate quite precisely how much they approve of each candidate which offers an even more accurate reflection of voter opinion.
The problem though, is that while this system is a more accurate reflection of voter opinion than the straight Borda system of ranking, voters who rate the candidates according to their honest opinion of each one can potentially be inadvertently helping their least favorite candidate win if their top choice has low support and they gave their second choice a medium score. This results in their second choice receiving less support than they potentially could, so even though their top choice would lose anyway, now they are also reducing the chance of even their second choice to win which is of course the opposite of what they intended.
This means that people whose primary goal is to prevent their least favorite candidate from winning are incentivized to strategically rate stronger candidates just as high as candidates they might prefer most; in other words, they would rate both their first and second choice as 10’s and rate their least favorite a zero. But these voters are just replicating an Approval Voting system, thus rendering the Score system irrelevent. This all points to the benefit of simply using an Approval Voting system.