A Better Voting Method



Our election system has a major problem.  Many of us are tired of the two party system, yet we wind up voting for a major party because we feel that a Libertarian candidate can’t win, or we feel that a vote for A is “really” a vote for B.  We have, at least at statewide and federal elections a system of voting called “first past the post”, in other words whoever gets the most votes wins.  This voting system in and of itself has structural flaws.

Let’s take the following scenario.  Twelve friends are voting where to take their Spring Break.  The choices are Florida, California and Alaska.  So Florida gets 4 votes, California 3 and Alaska 5.  So Alaska has won even though it gets a minority of the votes!  We’ve had many Presidential elections recently where the winning candidate did not achieve 50% of the popular vote.  The majority in our case wanted a sunny location, so they form the “Sunny Party”, so that the vote of the Sunny states doesn’t get split again.  Perhaps Vermont and Alaska will solve the “Winter Party.”  Meanwhile a temperate state like Washington doesn’t have a party to fit in, which is why we’re stuck with a two-party system of just extremes. 

So what’s the solution?  Ultimately we want more choice but those choices are limited by a system that is, forgive the term, rigged against third parties.  Except for Libertarians, no third party is on the ballot in all 50 states.  Third parties have an unreasonably high bar to even get on the debate stage.  They don’t have Federal campaign funds, don’t have as much money, don’t get the exposure, and thus citizens are afraid of “throwing away” their vote, and because of this, these parties also have a difficult time attracting high-quality candidates.  As much as I wanted to, I had enough concerns about Gary Johnson (even though I personally like him) and could not cast my vote for him.  But what if there was a way to hedge our bets?  Enter Instant Runoff Voting.

Enter Ranked Choice Voting with Instant Runoff!

There are two important differences.  First, no candidate can win without getting a majority of the popular votes.  Also, voters select not a single candidate, but they can vote for several candidates in a ranked order.  So if they vote for a third-party candidate and he/she doesn’t win, and no candidate gets a majority of votes, there would be an automatic or “instant” runoff (without the need to redo the vote), in which the losing candidate’s first place votes would be redistributed to the candidates who their voters selected as second choice.

Let’s illustrate with an example.  In the table below, we’ve listed six possible rankings of three candidates, along with the number of voters submitting that ballot:

# OF BALLOTS CAST

16

20

11

9

15

4

First Place

Trump

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Johnson

Johnson

Second Place

Clinton

Trump

Johnson

Johnson

Trump

Clinton

Third Place

Johnson

Johnson

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Trump

 When we tally up the first place votes for the  75 voters (total of the top row), we have

FIRST BALLOT
Clinton            29 (39%)
Trump              27 (36%)
Johnson           19 (25%)

So we see a few things – yes Gary Johnson got the fewest votes and Hillary Clinton received the most.  However, she did not receive a majority.  75 votes were cast, so 38 votes (37.5 is half of 75) are needed to win.  So we have to have a runoff, but we do NOT need to re-cast the ballots because the runoff is built into the system.  We simply remove Johnson’s votes:

# OF BALLOTS CAST

16

20

11

9

15

4

First Place

Trump

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Johnson

Johnson

Second Place

Clinton

Trump

Johnson

Johnson

Trump

Clinton

Third Place

Johnson

Johnson

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Trump

So Johnson’s first place votes in the right two columns then get redistributed.  Look at the right two columns.  15 of Johnson’s voters picked Trump as their second choice, and four of them picked Clinton as their second choice.  So Johnson’s votes get redistributed accordingly.  He gets removed from the table and all candidates below him move up one.

# OF BALLOTS CAST

16

20

11

9

15

4

First Place

Trump

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Second Place

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Trump

Clinton

Trump

In other words, Clinton keeps her original 29 votes plus the Johnson votes that had her as second choice.  Trump keeps his 27 plus 15 of Johnson’s second votes.

SECOND BALLOT
Trump              42 (56%)
Clinton            33 (44%)
Johnson           0

Now, Trump has a majority of 42, so he would win that state.  In a traditional vote, many of Johnson’s 19 voters may not even have selected him at all, and he may have had a much poorer performance.  This way, a voter could still select the third party candidate, and yet still “hedge their bet” by giving a second choice, just in case their first choice does not achieve a majority.

While not perfect, I believe that this method will achieve several things:

  • People can vote for a third-party candidate with more confidence, knowing that even if that candidate loses, they are not “throwing away” their vote.
  • This method eliminates the “Bush-Gore Effect” because the winner would have an undisputed majority.
  • Because voters rank their choices, we can have a runoff election without having to run the vote again – it’s built in to the system.Of course the major obstacle to this system is the balloting itself – voting machines would need to be re-engineered or re-programmed, and there is a minor risk of confusing voters.  But I believe these are minor hurdles for the most part, and the advantages of this system I think make it well worth the effort.

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