Columns / Discourse / March 4, 2020

The Fire This Time: Show me what democracy looks like

As I write this, the Super Tuesday votes are pouring in. Pundits are chittering away and voters are still waiting in line. Along the way, the cracks and leaks in our democracy begin to show themselves yet again.

It’s certainly not the most popular of statements, but I will utter it again anyways: perhaps a system developed to exclude the poor, the non-white and the non-male that was created over 300 years ago is not entirely structured around a world where the first three factors are no longer as true, the Internet exists, and there are millions more people. Don’t believe me? Let’s think for a second.

We firstly spend longer on our presidential elections than any other democratic country in the world. We spend over half a year determining which nominee each party will get. We only get two viable parties to nominate candidates for. During that decision making we hold open primaries, blanket primaries, closed primaries, caucuses, firehouse primaries, walking sub-caucuses and many more uniquely confusing processes each with their own uniquely confusing rules. Sometimes broken apps or unprotected voting machines are introduced to streamline this confusing process (it didn’t help, trust me I was there). Other times hundreds of polling places are closed by parties the day before an election, creating lines to vote that last upwards of five hours. Parties are able to change rules on or immediately before election day if they’d like. And if, in a mysterious and very sudden incident, three of a hypothetical seven candidates drop out, people who already voted early for those candidates will not be able to vote for a second option –– certainly not the biggest win for democracy. Weird right?

Sadly, I don’t have the word allotment nor the full research to hammer out a full suggestion for each of those issues. But what I do have is a desire to encourage you, dear reader, to at least question the structure of our electoral process. There’s a very different, more democratic way of doing things, and one such path is ranked choice voting.

People who, regretfully, know me personally know how often I talk about ranked choice voting and two-round voting. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a system in which you would choose multiple candidates for one position based on preference. This is similar to runoff voting, where a larger pool of candidates is selectable in the beginning and must pass a certain, quite high threshold to be in the final round of candidates.

In either case, the amount of choices available is already quite expanded while ensuring that your vote continues to carry as much weight no matter when you cast your vote or who it was for (which is important given just how long our election cycle takes).

Take this current democratic election for example. If you were registered to vote in Minnesota and cast your early ballot for Amy Klobuchar, you wouldn’t have to fret post drop out. In RCV you could also fill out that you additionally prefer Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, etc.

This way, even if other preferences drop out along the way, there will always be a next available selection you already made that will ensure your voted choice is yours. RCV also makes vote splitting less difficult in the long-run, allowing voters to actually vote according to their preference and diminishes the need or desire to vote “tactically.”

This, however, plays very interestingly on a federal stage with delegate allotment for the succeeding candidate. Delegates, representatives from each state that represent counties of their states and how they voted at the national convention of their party, are already quite confusing. In Iowa for example, delegates appointed at their local caucuses were the delegates for their county convention. They would then vote as their precinct had and appoint state delegates. Then those state delegates vote as their county had at the state convention and then appoint national delegates. Then they finally go to the national convention to vote to represent their state. This is how we went from 11,402 county delegates to 49 delegates in Iowa.

No state has yet been allowed to fully venture into ranked choice voting, so the path through delegate allotment is still quite unclear for RCV. States that choose to have RCV would likely have to continue recounting votes as the election proceeds and as more candidates drop, making sure to update who gets which delegates and then having national delegates at the ready in the event that their candidate wins delegates down the line. But this also calls into question the utility of delegates in general. The tradition and structure of our current system is in many ways comfortable and familiar to party usuals. But, as we saw in Iowa clearly and in every other state less so, delegates can hinder the full weight of raw popular vote totals. Perhaps it’s time to do away with delegates, and with them all that pesky delegate math too?

While you think on that, I want you to consider this: what does a democracy look like when votes no longer fully matter? What does a democracy do to its people when their ballots can ring hollow come election day and beyond? Voter turnout ranks quite low compared to our other neighbors in the Western world, so by all means it likely isn’t helping.

As we trek on past Tuesday, I hope you will consider the way in which we engage with and relate to our electoral system. We endanger our freedom and the rights of our fellow citizens when we so willfully make elections far too complex, far too exclusive, and far too demoralizing. Voting, a right that is and must be guaranteed to all U.S. citizens no matter what, should be as easy and accessible as we can make it. That’s going to take some major rethinking, remaking and reinvesting. So let’s do it!

Soleil Smith, Discourse Editor
Discourse Editor

Tags:  2020 election democracy elections politics united states politics

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