Part 1 of a six-part series.
Now that our political system has given us a president with no military or political experience, aided by the direction of electronic shenanigans by a former KGB spy who’s now Russia’s leader, it’s becoming clearer that our system is, if not broken, then seriously malfunctioning.
But what can we do about it? Unfortunately, the legislative system as it stands now benefits those who have the power to change the system.
Furthermore, some systemic problems can only be changed by constitutional amendment. That requires convincing two-thirds of the Congress to change the laws that help keep their two parties in power.
Or we could go to the states. That requires convincing two-thirds of the state legislatures (34 of 50) to vote to for a Constitutional Convention, which has never been done.
Finally, whether the Congress or the states propose an Amendment, it then must be ratified by three-fourths of the states (38 of 50), an even more daunting task.
Pretend for a moment, however, that it were possible. Perhaps the cancer of a Trumputin Administration does so much damage to the body politic that a constitutional chemotherapy would be embraced by the states or Congress. If so, here are the six state or national constitutional amendments I’d propose to fix American Democracy – and they don’t even require undoing Citizens United or abolishing the Electoral College.
Step One: The Right to Vote for Everyone
How it could happen: Individual states could pass citizen initiatives or legislative statutes to mandate voting system changes.
Why it will not happen: Only 24 states have initiative power. The ones requiring a legislative statute will never do it, because it would require Dems & GOP to eliminate the system that keeps third parties at bay.
Our type of voting system is called “first past the post.” It means out of all the horses in the race, you only get to vote for one of them. Whichever horse gets the most votes wins.
If we stick with “first past the post” voting, we will always have a duopoly in control. Today it’s Dems and GOP, 1,000 years from now it might be Yangs and Kohms, but it will always be two. (See Duverger’s Law at rangevoting.org.)
“Down the centuries you have slurred the meaning of the words: We the People…” – United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, planet Omega IV, circa 2267.
Consider how our voting system only lets us pick one candidate for an office. Why? If five people were running for office and I thought that one of them would be great at the job, but another one of them would do pretty good, too, why shouldn’t that be reflected in my vote? Or if I don’t know anything about four of them, but I was certain one of them would be a disaster, why can’t that be considered?
Such choices can be considered in a system called Ranked Choice Voting. It means you pick as many of the candidates as you like in the order you like them. If someone garners a majority of #1 votes, they win. If there’s not majority, the last place finisher’s #2 votes are distributed to the remaining four candidates. If someone then has a majority, they win, if not, the next-to-last place finisher’s #2 or #3 votes (in case a #2 went to the last place person who’s now out of the running) are distributed, and so on, until there’s a majority winner.
It sounds complex, but from a voter’s perspective, it isn’t. You’re just ranking, let’s say, five candidates with a 1-2-3-4-5. The vote counting is a bit more complex, but nothing we can’t handle.
For instance, pretend the election is between George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, and that’s the order you picked them, 1-2-3-4-5. Suppose the #1 votes came in like so:
Trump 35%; Lincoln 30%; Washington 25%; Bush 5%; Nixon 5%
If this were a “first past the post” election, Trump beats all the others. The majority, like you, who would’ve preferred Washington or Lincoln split their votes. Trump’s devoted base stuck together. A few chose Bush or Nixon.
But since this is a Ranked Choice election, and none got a majority of #1 votes, the last-place candidate (Nixon) is dropped, and all his #2 votes are added to the remaining four candidates. Let’s say Trump and Bush were #2 for 2-in-5 Nixon voters and Lincoln and Washington split the other 3. The results would be:
Trump 36%; Lincoln 31%; Washington 27%; Bush 6%
That still doesn’t give us a majority winner, so the fourth place finisher (Bush) is dropped. Say his #2’s (and #3’s if #2 was Nixon, which we ignore) came through like this:
Trump 37%; Lincoln 32%; Washington 31%
So, we drop Washington, tally up his #2’s (and #3’s and #4’s if there were Bush and Nixon votes to ignore), and find that way more people (like you) who would’ve wanted Washington would settle for Lincoln than for Trump:
Lincoln 60%; Trump 40%
Maine passed an amendment last election to make all their state and federal votes follow the ranked-choice system. Numerous cities and counties use it. This will increase the viability of third parties, because they are no longer “spoiler votes”. It also guarantees that if one of the two-party candidates wins, it’s the one most palatable to the most people, instead of getting a Trump chosen only by 46% of the people and losing the popular vote by 3 million.
The Constitution doesn’t actually define our right to vote for president, for it is the states that have the power to determine how electors are chosen who vote for president in the Electoral College. The 2000 Bush v. Gore lawsuit decided by the Supreme Court affirmed that “[t]he individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.”
An amendment that explicitly guarantees our right to vote would hamper many strategies that are used to suppress the vote. Let’s finally define out right to vote in our Constitution and let it be by Ranked Choice.