Small “D” Democracy? In America?? It could happen…

National polls have revealed that the general public knows full well that America’s two-party system is broken. The sorry turnout at elections all across the country confirms that voters don’t believe that their interests are being represented by the candidates produced by either of the two major parties. One poll just this past January revealed that more than two-thirds of Americans would consider voting for a third-party presidential candidate,

Although there are other national parties, the media rarely, if ever, mentions them, and for good reason. Corporate media is cashing in on the system in place. Though major party candidates muse from time to time about the need for reform, neither major party truly supports clean election laws or full public funding of campaigns. As a result, huge amounts of cash are shoveled into advertising accounts.  Corporations and corporate media get the elevator while America’s middle class and the poor get the shaft.

One simple solution is to turn America into a democracy (with a small “d”). Below, my good friend GaryZ explains how.

It’s The Electoral System, Stupid
by Gary Zuckett – Economic, Health & Environment
Justice Coordinator, Southern Appalachian Labor School

Who can ever forget the irony and unfairness of the November/December election of 2000? The whole world watched us, the bastion of Democracy, elect a president with a couple of hundred votes selected from one state with lousy ballots. To rub salt in the wound, the winner lost the popular vote by nearly a half a million ballots and the Supreme Court snuffed the counting of uncounted ballots spit out by those notorious punch-card machine counters. Former President Jimmy Carter indicated in a recent public radio interview that an international observation team (many of which he attended) would probably not certify these results. Many are offering solutions to this fuzzy voting problehm. Here’s mine: Proportional Representation in the Electoral College, and Instant Runoff Voting within the states.

Fair Electoral College Voting:

Maine and Nebraska have figured it out (without the need for a constitutional amendment). Electors to the Electoral College should not be chosen by states in a winner-take-all manner. In these two states the statewide winner gets only two electoral votes. The rest are allotted to the winner of each congressional district (one vote per district). This would result in an electoral vote count that more closely reflects the popular vote even in elections like November 2000.

In a small state such as West Virginia things wouldn’t change much, but large states with significant regional differences could split tickets two or three ways. In addition, candidates could no longer afford to ignore small states or write off states secure in either their own or opponents courts because every Congressional District would be up for grabs. If the 2000 election had been counted in this manner who would have been our president? I haven’t done the math but I’d bet his name wouldn’t have a “W” in it.

Instant Run-Off: No Vote Is “Wasted.”

In our winner-take-all system, the winner in a three-way contest can win with less than 50% of the vote. This happened in ’92 when the Reform Party grabbed double-digit percentages and Clinton won with only 43% of the popular vote. In many states today it’s possible to win multi-candidate elections with 25% or less. This is a Democracy in name only.

What if you could vote for not only your first choice, but a second (and even third) for political candidates? You could if we used Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV). This is how the Parliament in Australia and the President of the Republic of Ireland are elected. It works like this: each voter has only one vote, but ranks candidates in order of preference #1, #2, #3 etc. The counting of the ballots simulates a series of runoff elections. If no candidate receives over 50% in the initial vote, the one with the least number of #1 votes is eliminated and citizens who voted for the eliminated candidate have their #2 choice voted. This “instant runoff” is repeated until someone wins a majority of votes. Thus a (begrudging) mandate is created for the eventual winner, unlike the mess we’re faced with now.

Under this system, Ralph Nader (or Denise Giardina) supporters could vote their conscience knowing their votes could still be counted toward a potential victory for their second choice. This would negate the need for Nader “vote swapping” (which I did with a friend of a friend in Texas) and effectively eliminate the “lesser of two evils” argument against voting for third parties. How many #1 votes would Nader or Giardina have gotten under IRV voting? Easily double or triple if people voted their values. Would this send a message to the eventual winner? You can count on it. The Center for Voting and Democracy ( is a wealth of information on how to upgrade our voting system from an ENIAC (the first vacuum tube computer) to a Pentium IV. Its not rocket science, but since the American Political Science Association uses IRV to select its President, there must be something to it…

Two simple and constitutional reforms of our voting system could put us back on track toward fair and representative elections.

If not now, when? If not us, who?

Adapted from an article in the January/February  2001  SALS JOURNAL, a quarterly publication of the Southern Appalachian Labor School , a regional grass-roots organization dedicated to social & environmental justice and workers rights.

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One Response to Small “D” Democracy? In America?? It could happen…

  1. kohler says:

    Dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district winners would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

    The district approach would not provide incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state. With the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all laws (whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts (the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race has been competitive in only 3 of the state’s 53 districts. Nationwide, there have been only 55 “battleground” districts that were competitive in presidential elections. With the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, 2/3rds of the states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, 88% of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

    Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.

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