How we can fix American democracy
“In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent member of the progressive Wing of the Democratic Party recently said about the stark difference between Democrats. There is massive division within the parties, and it is not just politicians who are frustrated by this. According to an NBC News/WSJ Poll, around 40% of Americans want a third party. If such a large number of Americans want a third party, and individuals within the parties see themselves as fractured, why is America still operating under a seemingly fixed strangle of the two-party system?
The answer can be found through a discussion of our current voting system. Within the current U.S. voting system, there is a fear of the spoiler effect, or vote splitting. Vote splitting occurs when a candidate loses because some of their potential voters supported a minor candidate with similar ideologies instead. As a result, voters fearing the spoiler effect instead choose a major party that they most closely align with. Therefore, to fix the two-party stranglehold on American politics, the spoiler effect needs to end. To accomplish this, states should implement ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates on their ballots. If there is no majority for one candidate based on everyone's first choice when the ballots are counted, votes for the losing candidate will be reallocated to remaining candidates based on the second choices of those voters who prioritized the losing candidate. That process continues until a candidate gets a majority. With ranked-choice voting, vote splitting is eliminated. This benefits the development of third parties, as voters can support third party candidates without fear of voting splitting. Therefore, third parties will start getting more votes and as a result be viewed as increasingly viable.
Ranked-choice voting may seem like a revolutionary idea to fix the two-party system of the United States, but it has been used for decades in countries such Canada, Australia, Ireland and even the state of Maine. In Ireland, for example, 75% of the voters, according to a Cambridge University study, are satisfied with their democracy. This number is significantly higher than the dismal 39% of Americans. Ranked-choice voting is also prevalent in U.S. cities, with more than 20 having adopted or soon to be adopting it, including San Francisco and New York City. Surveys done about ranked-choice voting by FairVote in U.S. cities that have passed ranked-choice voting laws have shown majority respondent satisfaction with the voting system. As Americans’ dissatisfaction with the current system has grown, states have increasingly looked to other voting methods. Maine adopted ranked-choice voting in 2018. Massachusetts will be considering enacting ranked-choice voting through a ballot question.
Besides Maine and Massachusetts, ranked-choice voting has been considered in other states. However, one issue that is often cited about ranked-choice voting is that it is too confusing for voters. In 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a measure that would allow ranked-choice voting in local elections due to the concern that it would create confusion. While this concern has been dispelled by the survey previously cited that showed 90% of respondents understood ranked-choice voting, for the purpose of argumentation it will be treated as valid. Due to the voluntary nature of ranked-choice voting, if an individual wants to only choose one candidate they can, and if an individual wants to choose only two or more, then they can do that as well. Therefore, if ranked-choice voting proves too confusing for some voters then they can simply treat it as if it does not exist, and still select their top candidate. Furthermore, if ranked-choice voting is adopted, then voters will get familiar with the process over time.
Ranked-choice voting is a proven system that can solve voters’ apprehension of splitting the vote, and thus open the political arena for third parties. If we want to break the oppressive state of U.S. politics by allowing for a wider range of parties and candidates, then ranked-choice voting is the obvious answer. Of course, this policy may not be popular with the beneficiaries of the two-party system, as it will cost them power by creating credible third parties. This party backlash can be clearly seen in the GOP’s attempt to delay ranked-choice voting by calling for another referendum, and when failing to get enough signatures, staging a failed lawsuit based on the government’s refusal to stage another referendum. It is yet to be seen if ranked-choice voting can be enacted nationally in our current political system.