The Bewildered Herd
"The public must be put in its place, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and
roar of a bewildered herd."

                        - Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, 1922
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Voting - It's the Least You Can Do
Laura, a friend of my wife who is active in the Democratic political scene out in Minnesota, recently described two problems she sees with our political system: liberals not getting involved in a meaningful way and our plurality voting system. I thought it summed up the issues pretty well and thought I'd share.
To start with - QUIT THINKING THAT VOTING IS THE END-ALL-BE-ALL OF CIVIC PARTICIPATION!! Voting is where you start, not where you end. Knocked on doors this election? Ever called your state legislator to tell them how much things suck at you kids' school or about your neighbor who can't get health care? How about writing a letter to the editor to say why you think our tax system is fucked up? And then enocuraging your friends to do the same. THAT is how you make a difference - you lobby for it. The other side does that. I've seen politicians votes change on a bill because I talked 3 people into calling to talk to them about it. If your answer to the above questions is 'no', than I honestly think you have barely any more right to bitch than the person who didn't vote at all. Again, voting is a minimum.

But how do we get even more voices heard - those that will never be represented by a mainstream liberal party like the Democrats even in our best-case scenario. Short of converting to a parliamentary system with proportional representation, the answer is instant run-off voting.

Instant runoff voting allows for better voter choice and wider voter participation by accommodating multiple candidates in single seat races and assuring that a "spoiler"-effect will not result in undemocratic outcomes. Instant runoff voting allows all voters to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping elect their least favorite candidate, and it ensures that the winner enjoys true support from a majority of the voters. Plurality voting, used in most American elections, does not meet these basic requirements for a fair election system that promotes wide participation, and traditional runoff elections are costly to the taxpayer and often suffer from low voter turnout.

Instant runoff voting is a winner-take-all system that ensures that a winning candidate will receive a majority of votes rather than a simple plurality. In plurality voting -- as used in most U.S. elections -- candidates can win with less than a majority when there are more than two candidates running for the office. In contrast, IRV elects a majority candidate while still allowing voters to support a candidate who is not a front-runner. IRV is a sensible method in single winner elections.

As long as our system breaks it down to a simple winner and loser, a vote for a minor party candidate is, by definition, a wasted vote. This would encourage people to take a longer look at minor parties and encourage more coalition building between different interests.
Thanks, Laura!

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