People should be able to vote their conscience every time they cast a ballot.
The Way Things Are
Politics is a nasty, bitter business. When people talk about a general election, you'll hear someone say, "I don't really like so-and-so, but I'm voting for them so the other person won't win". Perhaps someone would rather vote for Trump than support a broader social safety net. Maybe someone voted for Hillary just because they didn't want a Republican in charge of Supreme Court nominations.
These people aren't voting their true belief, but for the least bad candidate. The reluctant Clinton voter in 2016 may have wanted a more progressive candidate in office, and the nose-holding Trump voter may have wanted an establishment Republican. Or maybe someone voted Libertarian. Good luck with that proposition.
We have a duopoly of organized political thought in this country: The Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These private organizations are not chartered by the federal government; they are not written into our Constitution or the US Code. They maintain their grip on power because our voting systems only allow for two viable candidates in a given election.
What if you could vote for the candidate you most believed in? What if you supported an outsider candidate and wanted to tell your government how you felt on the ballot? And what if doing that didn't "waste a vote"?
Voting Your Conscience
Today, in most jurisdictions, an election is decided by Plurality Voting - or First Past The Post. In short, whoever gets more votes than any other candidate wins. Sometimes, a candidate is required to get more than 50% of the vote, so a runoff can be required if necessary.
This system ha several downsides, the most immediate and frustrating of which is the "spoiler effect". It means that voting for the candidate you most prefer (but who is less popular) will end up helping the candidate you least prefer. Think of the common, though debated, instances of the conservative Ross Perot helping liberal Bill Clinton win in 1992, or the liberal Green Party candidate Ralph Nader helping conservative George Bush win in 2000. (Never mind hanging chads or the Supreme Court).
Why does this happen? You only get to tell the government how you feel about one candidate. They don't ask about your broader preferences. They don't ask you who you would vote for if your first choice isn't viable. But they can! A better system is Ranked Choice Voting.
The Voting System We Can Have
Click on the link above to read a lot more - but I will give you the crash course.
How you vote
- You receive a ballot of, say, five candidates for an election.
- You rank each candidate in order of preference. 1 is the most preferred candidate, and 5 is the least preferred.
- That is it.
Pretty simple, right? It isn't complicated to think about.
How the vote is counted
- Tally the #1 votes. If one candidate has >50% of the vote, DONE!
- If not, remove the least popular candidate from the pool.
- Look at the #2 vote of each person who voted #1 for the ousted candidate.
- DONE! Probably. Having more than one runoff is unlikely in practice. If not done, repeat the elimination/recount procedure.
This, too, is simple. What have we accomplished by changing our system in such an intuitive way?
You told the government how you really feel
If nothing else, the data from a Ranked Choice election is much more informative than exit polls or a Plurality vote. Each voter can go on the record and give candid, truthful feedback to the government on who they support, without the fear of "wasting their vote" on less likely third party candidates.
Independent candidates will not sabotage similar candidates
With Ranked Choice Voting, a candidate with similar ideologies can run against a Democrat/Republican without helping the "other side". A progressive Liberal could run without hurting a Democrat, or a real fiscal conservative could run against a Republican without hurting that party.
Those independent candidates could win
All the rest is well and good, but they are a means to this end: When voters are free to speak their mind, independent candidates have a chance to win. The candidate that is truly most favored by the majority will take office. The major parties would be forced to compete by standing for their own principles and policies - they couldn't rely on demonizing the opposition. It has been shown to promote "positive campaigning".
Can This Really Happen?
It is happening. Urban centers around the country are using it for council elections. The state of Maine has used it for their House Representative, and will use it in the 2020 presidential election. Other countries such as Australia use it.
Will it happen overnight? No - but like so many things, it takes citizens being aware that an issue even exists to fix it. And it takes them knowing there is a solution for them to think fixing it is a reality.
It can't hurt for you to mail/email your councilperson and your state representatives on the issue, and ask where they stand. If you like chatting at the bar, bring it up as a cool thing you heard about. (It is totally cool).
It isn't sexy, but voting reform like this is a fundamental change that our country needs, right along things like campaign finance reform and the elimination of Gerrymandering.