Is this as good as it gets? Is it really just the Tea Party versus Harry Reid? John Boehner versus Nancy Pelosi? Sarah Palin versus Barack Obama?
Isn’t their more to our politics than the dumbed-down choices handed us by political consultants and a media that is more interested in pocketing money from campaign commercials than in covering campaigns in a serious way?
Of course, there is more. Green, Libertarian, Working Family, Vermont Progressive, Socialist and genuine independents are running some of the most provocative and important campaigns of the 2010 election cycle. But as Election Day approaches, attention to anything but Democrats and Republicans wanes. And we are left with a "choice" that in some cases is no choice at all—or, at the least, not a very appealing one.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A simple election reform, the adoption of Ranked Choice Voting, could open up the process and allow for real choices in states across the country. Under Ranked Choice, voters don’t just tick the name of one candidate and walk away. They rank the various candidates—first choice, second, third, fourth and so on. If their first choice finishes out of the running, their vote is reassigned to their second choice. Thus, an Illinoisan who wants to back the strong Green Party gubernatorial campaign of attorney Rich Whitney could rank Whitney first. If the Green falls short, the vote could then shift to the total of Democrat Pat Quinn.
A Green pipedream? A Libertarian fantasy? Not anymore.
The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, is saying this is this is a change that needs to be considered—and adopted.
Arguing for reforms that have been outlined and advanced by the terrific group Fair Vote, Dean is arguing that: "Democracy is more than what’s best for a party. It’s what best for voters. Among Americans’ inalienable rights should be a commitment of their elected officials to set aside partisan calculations when structuring the rules governing our democracy."
It is rare, especially in the closing days of a hot election campaign, for a prominent partisan to come out for real reform. But Dean is stepping up in an important way on this front—as he is on a host of other political and media reform issues.
Here’s what the former governor of Vermont and 2004 presidential candidate is saying:
Let’s Uphold Majority Rule With Ranked Choice Voting
By Howard Dean
On November 2nd, Democrats face immense challenges to hold onto their majorities in Congress and state governorships. As a partisan, I want my party to do as well as it can.
But democracy is more than what’s best for a party. It’s what best for voters. Among Americans’ inalienable rights should be a commitment of their elected officials to set aside partisan calculations when structuring the rules governing our democracy.
Too often, that’s not what we see. In the redistricting to take place across the nation next year, for example, expect rampant partisan ugliness as legislators pick their voters before their votes pick them. But other leaders sincerely want democracy to work for voters. That helps explain increasing adoptions of ranked choice voting, a reform that addresses two of the most urgent problems in our democracy: upholding majority rule when voters have more two choices and curbing the increasingly negative character of campaigns.
Debated vigorously when Ross Perot earned 19% of the presidential vote in 1992 and Ralph Nader tipped Florida away from Al Gore in 2000, split votes have become a regular feature of our elections. It wouldn’t surprise me if next month a dozen races for governor and US Senate were won with under 50% of the vote, including potentially Wisconsin.
Ranked choice voting handles voter choice with a sensible change. After indicating your first choice, you have the option to rank alternate choices. If no candidate wins a 50% plus one majority, then those rankings are used to simulate an instant runoff: the weak candidates are eliminated, and their backers’ votes are added to the totals of the frontrunners. The candidate who wins a majority in the final instant runoff is the winner.
I learned to appreciate ranked choice voting in 1998, when running for governor of Vermont. I faced strong nominees of both the Republican and Progressive party. With votes split three ways, I barely won a majority. Major parties can react to such an election in one of two ways: fight the very existence of third parties or change laws to handle increased voter choice. Ranked choice voting represents this more democratic approach.
My state has had ongoing debates about it – the legislature even approved ranked choice for congressional races in 2008. Elsewhere, it’s now law in cities like Minneapolis (MN), Oakland (CA) and Memphis (TN). North Carolina is using RCV to fill a statewide judicial vacancy. Several Utah Republicans won ranked choice voting elections to fill state legislative vacancies. The United Kingdom next year will vote in a referendum on whether to join Australia and Ireland in using it for national election. Ranked choice voting is even used now to pick the Best Picture Oscar.
This year’s elections demonstrate why it makes sense. In races for governor in Rhode Island and Colorado and for US Senator in Alaska and Florida, major party nominees are running third, put in the "spoiler role" usually assigned to third parties. Elsewhere, the very lack of such viable independent and third party candidates will keep potential voters from the polls.
Having more competition forces candidates to clean up negative campaigning and stick to the issues. Knowing they may need support from supporters of other candidates to win, candidates have to tone down personal attacks. Reaching out to more voters also helps them govern better when they win.
The fundamental issue is majority rule. Without a majority standard, you can’t hold power accountable. It’s a blight on democracy when an incumbent can be returned to office even though 60 percent of voters reject that candidate as their last choice. That’s why both Sen. John McCain and President Barack Obama have actively backed ranked choice voting. No party has a lock on majority rule, and both major parties can stand up for it.
With ranked choice voting, we can uphold majority rule, make campaigns less negative and foster less partisan elections. Let’s adopt ranked choice voting in the best spirit of making democracy work for all of us.