Election Day

I was planning this big multi-part blog series on elections in the US. As you can see, that didn’t happen. I did find time to research all of the candidates and propositions, so I went ahead and voted this morning.

I’m really tired of the duopoly that we face each election. People are always saying “I’m voting for the lesser of two evils” or “if I vote for X, I’ll just be throwing my vote away.” Well, that’s because the voting system we have only allows us to specify our favorite candidate, and people feel like they have to vote strategically, possibly voting for someone who’s not the favorite to prevent someone that they really don’t like from winning. It doesn’t have to be that way though. There are other voting systems, Instant-runoff, Borda count, and the Condorcet method for example, that allow you to specify your preferences for as many of the options that you see fit. Instant-runoff voting is probably my favorite. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty easy to understand and would be a huge improvement over the current system.

Another issue in American elections that I wanted to talk about is the Electoral College. There’s really two problems with how it’s used. The first is that it doesn’t provide equal representation for all citizens, and winner take all puts excess pressure on voters in swing states and makes voters in non-swing states feel like their vote doesn’t count.

The non-equal representation problem is caused by the way electoral votes are distributed. Wyoming only has about 500,000 people in it, but it has three electoral votes. California, on the other hand, has a population of about 34 million and gets 55 votes. That means a voter from Wyoming has almost four times the voting power as a voter from California. If California were to split into 68 mini-Californians, then a Californian’s voting power per person would be equal to that of someone from Wyoming. It just doesn’t make sense that changing some boundaries would have such a huge impact on the voting system. Unfortunately, to fix this unfair system we’d need to amend the constitution, and do do that we’d need support from many of the states that are benefiting from this inequity, so it’s not very likely to ever happen.

What we can do is move away from the winner take all notion to a proportional representation system. Two states currently split up their electoral votes to better match the will of the people. Switching to a proportional system can occur at the state level, so it’s much easier to get done. Of course, it doesn’t always benefit the two major parties, so there is going to be some push back before it can happen. California for example, is very likely to vote for a Democrat for president in a winner take all situation, so you’re not going to see many democrats in California pushing for proportional voting. Florida last election went the other way. We wouldn’t have needed all of the recounting anyway because out of their 27 electoral votes, only a few would have been contested, and it wouldn’t be enough to swing the election on its own.

Oh yeah… there’s one other major problem with the Electoral College that should be fixed, but probably won’t until it’s exposed to the general public. There are currently 538 electoral votes, and you need at least 270 to win. If we had a strong third (or fourth) party, it would be easy to imagine no candidate reaching the 270 vote mark. That would mean the election would be entirely in the hands of the House of Representatives.

That’s all for today. I’ll try to come back and flesh out some of these ideas later, but I can’t make any promises.

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