Almost 10 years ago, former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth of Missouri offered an opinion on the American political landscape. “It used to be that the two major parties offered candidates and policies that appealed to independent voters,” he said. “They don’t do that anymore. They offer the candidates and policies that please them and tell independent voters to take it or leave it.”
The two major parties are able to do this because we are using outdated election processes that limit voters’ choices and restrict political competition. This phenomenon is called the “Spoiler Scenario.”
The Spoiler Scenario is when vast numbers of voters detest one of the major political parties and would never vote for its candidates. The other party is the one they normally favor, but they’re not satisfied with it. Along comes a third party or independent candidate who seems more closely aligned with their views. But when the moment of truth comes, voters balk at voting for third party or independent candidates. Why?
Because those voters vote with fear. They fear not voting for the party they normally favor will result in the party they detest winning.
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The ballot we’re accustomed to (which is not mandated by the Constitution) is known as either the “first-past-the-post” or “winner-take-all” ballot. This ballot allows plurality winners, rather than mandating majority winners. Therefore, the will of the majority can be thwarted by a minority.
Our government should give us policies that reflect the will of the majority within the bounds of the Constitution. So why aren’t we using a ballot process that mandates majority winners?
Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize there is another type of ballot we could be using. That ballot and its process are known as ranked choice voting. It is a simple, yet powerful change we can make to give voters a stronger voice in our elections.
A ranked choice election gives voters the freedom to rank candidates in order of preference instead of just picking one. All first choices are counted, and if a candidate has a majority, he or she wins, just like any other election. If no one has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and those voters’ ballots instantly count for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate receives a majority of votes and is declared the winner.
Because candidates are obliged to appeal to voters beyond their base, we see more positive, issue-oriented campaigns. Ranked choice voting promotes fair outcomes that are grounded in majority rule without needing to have a whole second runoff election, saving taxpayers money.
Minneapolis just elected its mayor and city council with it for the second time. Last year, voters in Maine overwhelmingly approved ranked choice voting for its elections statewide, but Maine’s legislature and governor are trying desperately to override the voters. Maine’s voters are trying to override the override with a “people’s veto.” What is going on in the Pine Tree State is an indication that those who achieved authority by plurality will resist a threat to their power.
You can help bring ranked choice voting to your city or state. Learn more about this and other election reforms by visiting TheCenterStrikesBack.org or FairVote.org. Support referendum efforts to put ranked choice on the ballot.
If you live in Missouri, that effort is already underway. Go to GovernmentByThePeople
.org to join in. Support candidates who support this reform. Demand your congressional representatives enact the Fair Representation Act.
If we keep doing things the same old way, then we’re going to keep getting the same old outcomes. You don’t have to vote with fear.
Missouri native Larry R. Bradley is a retired U.S. Army officer with a political science degree from Missouri State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee.