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A drastic change that could make elections much more fair

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As midterm election primary elections roll on in, one thing is becoming clear: this is the year of the Tea Party. Or, not really, right? Tea party candidates who win primaries against moderate Republicans are less likely to win in their general elections against a Democrat then that moderate Republican might have been, so the whole thing might be a Pyrrhic victory. If I were speaking to a group of Tea Party idiots, this would be a pretty fantastic opportunity for me to talk about my favorite possible election reform. Since our readers are much too smart to be involved with these dunces, all I can do is ask you to imagine “if the tables were reversed,” only the candidates involved were all a lot smarter and on your side.

In other words. Three candidates are running. One you hate (candidate C). You really like the less popular of the other two (candidate A), but would be somewhat okay with the more popular of them (candidate B). Under our present election system, you have to choose between voting for your lesser favorite candidate (B) to avoid the catastrophic result of your least favorite candidate winning. If candidate A is popular enough, he may draw enough votes away from candidate B that candidate C wins, even if candidate C is everyone’s least favorite choice. If candidates A and B are running in a primary against each other, you may still feel a pragmatic need to vote for B, if they are calculated to do better in a runoff against candidate C.

So suppose we had elections in two stages: in the first stage, you vote for anyone you want. In the second stage, the two most popular candidates run off against each other. This way, you are free to vote for candidate A in the first round, knowing you can support candidate B in the runoff if A isn’t successful. A few things now happen:

  • The two political parties become less powerful, since they don’t control the primary process.
  • Fringe candidates become more of a factor in the process, since they can attract votes without “stealing” votes from the “major” candidates.
  • You don’t get a “split vote,” where, through the sheer coincidence of the election mechanics, someone gets elected that the majority is unhappy with.

Pretty good, right? It’s almost exactly what passed in California earlier this year. It’ll be interesting the see how it works there (if it gets through the court challenges), but maybe it’s a long-term model for what the country needs?

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interesting idea. im a fan of the no vote choice and if there are enough no votes it causes a new race maybe with new candidates.

— miami · Sep 23, 06:52 PM · #

“Instant runoff” condenses the the 2-stage process into one. Also, insulting people you disagree with politically may not be the best way to sell election reform (or anything else for that matter). Having said that, it’s an excellent idea.

— Jon · Sep 23, 11:09 PM · #

Dude, this is how they do it most places. I had no idea California is gonna have runoffs! Thanks for the passiton, man.

— RickyP · Sep 24, 12:05 AM · #

This won’t work very well for many reasons…and what problem does it solve?

Rather than empower independents and so-called fringe candidates, it strips away any chance of their election. This system only reinforces the biggest problem already in place: those with the most money to spend have a clear advantage, often insurmountable. At least under the current system, a “fringer” can compete within the party, win, and claim the party’s backing, like Scott in FL and the teabaggers elsewhere.

If I’m a party loyalist, I don’t want people outside my party influencing my party’s candidate. Currently, if you want to sabotage my primary, you need to change registration. Under this reformed system, you only have to vote. Why is that an advantage?

How well has this system worked in the districts it has been tried?

squathole · Sep 24, 09:43 AM · #

This is not about primaries. This is about the actual election. It empowers independents and third parties because you don’t have to worry about Bush winning if you vote for Nader in the first round. It also makes sure that the elected official is elected with an absolute majority of the votes.

Adam · Sep 24, 01:15 PM · #

Adam: This is about primaries: it describes a “two-tiered” process that determines which candidates will go on to face one another in an election.

Which raises another concern: if a candidate is eliminated in the first round, what prevents him from running as an Independent in the election anyway? Which means we have the same basic systemic problem with this so-called reform as we have now.

squathole · Sep 25, 10:44 AM · #


Adam is exactly right. The party-based primary system is a relic of historical accident. It is a hindrance to the free expression of ideas, because a fringe candidate can only compete within the party if she is within the constraints of what the party is willing to acknowledge. Any Nader supporter should know this.

The way I like to think about this is that you’re (a) eliminating the party primaries and (b) making it much easier for “third-party” candidates to get an even footing.

You’re thinking about this in the wrong way. The first election is not the primary. In fact, the parties would be more than welcome to hold their primaries before the first election, and only running one candidate. You can’t run in the run-off unless you are one of the top two vote-getters in the first election.

The other objection, that fringe candidates have to come up with twice the funding, for two separate election cycles, is BS too — if you make it to the run-off stage, whole new streams of fundraising are opened up to you, so it makes sense for almost any candidate to approach funding for the run-off election as a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” problem.

alesh · Sep 27, 04:12 PM · #

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