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California State Government June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Moving Beyond the "Lesser of Two Evils"

By Forrest Hill

Candidate for Secretary of State; Green Party

This information is provided by the candidate
Today the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that dose not have a multi-party system. This is a direst result of the "winner-take-all" voting system we use to elect our representatives to office. Our election system creates the illusion of Red and Blue states by ignoring the full spectrum of political views held by voters. We need to implement an election system that enhances political diversity and provides full representation for all our citizens.
U.S. Elections and the Myth of Democracy

In a democratic society those elected to government would ideally embody the views of a representative cross-section of it citizens and political decisions would reflect the will of the people. This can only occur if elected officials stay true to the values they supported during their campaigns and voters have a wide range of candidates to choose from.

Unfortunately, in the United States our Winner-Take-All (WTA) election system ensures that such a representative democracy remains little more than a myth. By design, WTA voting systems produce two dominant political parties that oscillate in and out of power, with the party losing the election forming a "government-in-waiting". Under such a system the will of the people is easily supplanted by the rule of the few.

Our election system has also given rise to a number of negative side-effects including corporate financing of campaigns, gerrymandered party districts, low voter turnout, mudslinging, partisan obstructionism (i.e. gridlock), under representation of women and minorities in elective office, and limited choices of candidates.

These side-effects, however, are symptoms of a dysfunctional system rather than the cause of the limited choices we are confronted with every time we enter the voting booth.

Instant Runoff Voting: The Will of the Majority

For executive offices such as President, Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State, our "winner-take-all" electoral system becomes dysfunctional when more than two candidates run for the same political office.

Because candidates can win with less than 50% of the of vote, "winner-take-all" elections often discourage citizens from voting for the candidate of their choice for fear that they will split the vote, and feel compelled to vote for the "lesser of two evils".

Lesser evil voting has allowed the two major political parties to retain their monopoly over our political system, suppressed voter turnout, and shut out new and independent voices in government.

The solution to this problem is Instant Runoff Voting. IRV offers a cost-effective way of insuring that the winning candidate is preferred by a majority of voters, frees voters to choose their top choice without fear, promotes greater voter participation and fosters positive campaigning.

IRV works by allows voters to rank candidates 1,2, 3,... in order of preference. If no candidate gets 50 percent of first-preference votes (i.e. a majority) on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the votes for her are transferred to the voter┐s second choice. The process is repeated until one candidate has a winning majority.

Instant Runoff Voting simulates a series of runoff elections all in one, saving money and encouraging voter turn out. It enables a broader number of people to have their votes counted by giving them more initial choices. It preserves majority rule, encourages participation and diversity, and eliminates the "spoiler effect".

IRV is used for government elections in several English-speaking countries, such as Australia, Ireland and the U.K. In the U.S. instant runoff voting has been adopted in places such as: Louisiana (for overseas absentee ballots), the Utah Republican Party (for U.S. Congressional nominations at conventions), and the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and San Leandro in California.

The superiority of Proportional Representation

For Legislative bodies, like the U.S. Congress, State Senate, and the Assembly, Proportional Representation (PR) Voting is clearly superior to our single-district "winner-take-all" voting system.

Under a PR voting system, if a party gets 10% of the vote for a legislative body, they would get 10% of the seats.

Studies over the past 50 years in Australia, Europe, and South Africa clearly show the superiority of PR voting over winner-take-all voting systems.

In general PR voting elicits higher voter turnouts (about 10 percent greater), results in greater representation by minorities and women, and is usually more effective at creating governments that are efficient and likely to follow through on campaign promises.

This is no accident. By guaranteeing that the number of seats a party is accorded reflects its popular support, PR provides incentives for politicians to cooperate with other parties in order to govern. Part of that cooperation involves providing undistorted information on issues, in order to build coalitions for enacting new policies. This is quite different from WTA systems where incentives to remain in power lead to obfuscation and negative rhetoric.

Today 107 nations in the world use some form of proportional representation voting to elect government officials.

In fact, only three of the 41 countries with a high Freedom House human rights rating and a population over 2 million people -- the United States, Jamaica, and Canada - do not use some form of PR to elect an important representative body of government. Even Brittan uses PR to elect its representatives to the European parliament, and is currently reviewing whether to implement a similar system for its own parliamentary elections. Scotland and Wales, however, already have a jump on the Brits as they started using PR in 1999.

With Canada headed towards implementing a system of PR for regional and national elections, the U.S. will soon be the only developed nation in the world committed to denying full representation to its citizens.

The Dynamics of our Two Party System

We must remember that our electoral system was born in a time when the democratic ideas of the founders were still an experiment in people rule. Their approach was to "error" on the side of economic caution, by allowing only the male landowner gentry to have a voice in government. To ensure further safe guards, these men were only allowed to vote for electors, who in turn could vote for the candidate of their choice. Then, as today, money and influence were the primary factors in determining the outcome of an election.

History shows that under this system the Democrats and Republicans (who grew out of the Whigs) have not grown into two counterpoised forces, but rather complementary halves of a single two-party system: one animal with two heads that feed from the same corporate funded trough.

The Republican Party has historically acted as the open advocate for a platform which benefits the rule of wealth and corporate domination. They seek to convince the middle classes and labor to support the rule of the wealthy with the argument that "What's good for General Motors is good for the country".

On the other hand, the Democratic Party acts as a "broker", negotiating and selling influence among broad sectors of society to support the objectives of corporate rule. By preventing a genuine mass opposition from developing, they maintain the stability that is essential for "business as usual" politics.

The two parties have worked "hand in hand" to make ballot access increasingly difficult for alternative parties. They have conspired to defend indirect elections such as the Electoral College, insisted on winner-take-all voting to block the rise of alternative voices, opposed proportional representation to prevent representative democracy, and collaborated in district gerrymandering to create "safe" legislative seats.

The result is a disenfranchised electorate that must either accept the choices given to us by our antiquated election system or try and minimize the policy impacts by voting for the "lesser of two evils." Unfortunately, this voting strategy has allowed the Democratic Party to co-opt populist movements (e.g. The Union movement in the 1930's, the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the Women's movement, etc.), only to abandon these constituencies once they become a "captured" voting block.

The immutable status we have given to our electoral system is actually quite mind-boggling. Many of us are capable of articulating solutions to many of our most deep-seated socio-economic problems, yet when it comes to a destructive institutional feature of our political system, we accept it as permanent, almost as though it were part of the natural order of things. This attitude is all the more astounding given the enormous benefits electoral reforms such as proportional representation or instant run-off voting would instantly produce (e.g., a widening of our political options, greatly expanded participation, and the elimination of the "spoiler" effect).

The bottom-line is that without a more representative voting system that allows for the development of third, forth and fifth parties, we will remain a captured constituency of the two major parties with little chance to make real institutional changes.

Making Full Representation A Reality

By changing to a representative system of voting - IRV for executive races and PR for legislative races - government accountability would be greatly enhanced, as would the opportunity for greater representation of all U.S. citizens.

With voter turnout continuing to fall and the two major parties morphing more and more into a single entity, now is the time for disenfranchised citizens from all across the political spectrum to unite.

Our government will not act to change our electoral system until there is enough outcry from the citizenry they are suppose to represent. In New Zealand, election reform was fueled by a decade of popular dissent that culminated in a national referendum in 1993. Fifty-four per cent of the voting public supported a switch from a winner-take-all system to PR. It is unlikely that the New Zealand government would have acquiesced without this kind of pressure and we can expect the same here.

A similar revolution in underway in Canada where the government recently authorized the Law Commission of Canada (LCC) to study the problem of voter apathy and complaints from the public over the lack of political representation. The LCC, which advises Parliament on issues of law and governance, concluded that Canada should adopt a PR electoral system. Since that time a referendum on PR in British Columbia received 57% of the vote and a similar referendum is schedule for the Ontario elections in 2006.

The recent events in New Zealand and Canadian should give us hope that American citizens can democratize our government. Recognizing there is a command psychology that motivates many of us to take political action, we must begin to unite forces (regardless of our political beliefs) to bring about change in our electoral system. By working together to educate the public about IRV and PR and pressuring the government to democratize our voting system, we may yet create a democratic society.

Until we change our voting system, we are condemned to a system that forces the majority of citizens to vote against their conscience and choose between the lesser of two evils. Now is the time for us to unite under one banner to create a voting system that ensures rule by the majority and representation for all.

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