Lock Up Your Votes, You Never Know Where an Independent Thinker May Be

I am very sympathetic to the political parties that are commonly referred to as third-parties. In a feat of line-straddling, I identify with almost all the common third-parties: the Libertarians, the Greens, and even Nader, the much maligned consumer advocate. However, I’m most partial to the Libertarian party as though I like a lot of basic social programs, in my heart-of-hearts, I like small government more.

Small government, by the way, is supposed to be the Republican Party’s game. What happened to that? As a further aside, I note the fact that the Republican web site is gop.com, not gop.org.

But back to the point, which is that smaller political parties are getting the short end of the stick. The country is so divisive right now with half the country trying to run with the Christian-right-agenda-ball and the other half trying to stop the yardage gain. That, by the way, is basically the Democrat platform: reverse what has happened in the past four years. They aren’t pushing for crazy new agendas; they just want Bush to stop because it hurts so much.

In such a tense climate, attention has turned to the meager percentage points usually hard-won by smaller parties. There is a lot of unfavorable talk about these parties, and I want to give my take on some of it.

First off, I find the label spoilers patently rediculous. These parties are on the ballot in enough states to win the presidential election. Let that sink in, because I believe too few people understand that. They are every bit as legitimate running parties as the Democrats and Republicans, merely lacking the tradition of being voted for. They aren’t stealing any votes because their is no one to steal them from. If the Big Two can’t win the hearts and minds of voters, whose fault is that? I find it hard to fault other political clubs for having so reasonable a dissenting voice.

These parties are legitimate, but they have a hard time being recognized as such. Their attempts to get into the presidential debates are common and always rejected.

There is a valid point that a diverse liberal majority could be shouted down by a consolidated conservative minority, but that is so not their fault. I think its the nature of the beast to have many progressive views and few conservative ones. There are several paths to take from any one a particular point, but only one way to stay there. The problem is actually our crappy voting system.

There are two faults I see with our current voting system: the counting method and the elector-assignment method. The counting method we use now is called plurality: the one candidate with the largest percentage of votes wins. This has all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the claim of spoiler parties, and is one of the worst possible voting systems. As I said above, I find it reasonable that there will always be a chance for a conservative minority to override a liberal majority. There are myriad better solutions, the best being approval and condorcet. We need to push for a change, for a system that doesn’t punish ideas for being popular.

The problem of elector-assignment is a commonly misunderstood one. Note that I don’t say the electoral college, just the assignment of the electors. Each state is granted so many elector slots, and each one has complete control over how to assign the slots. The common method of winner-takes-all is increasingly showing signs of wear. For example, witness the embarrassing concept of battleground states, states that get to decide the election. I live in Massachusetts, a traditionally Democratic-voting state. The Democratic party is so strong here that it is hard to not feel disenfranchised. The Democrats are spoiling everyone else here, stealing their votes. All non-Democrat votes typically get thrown out after being counted, which is pretty rediculous when you think about it.

The problem is not the electoral college, but states’ system of winner-take-all. If they were to assign electors proportionately, we would approach a popular vote. For example, if 33% of Massachusetts voted Republican and the other 66% Democrat, our 12 electors could be split four-and-eight. This would let people actually feel like they are voting and be good for the states — candidates would actually fight over the constituents and visit the state.

So, the electoral college is not a road-block to this goal; rather it is an aid! By granting each state sovereignty over its votes, change can happen gradually and in the areas that actually want it. For more information and to find out about the state of proportional voting in your area, the Center for Voting and Democracy can hook you up. Many states have bills making the slow journey through the state legislatures.

So stop blaming the so-called third-parties and start blaming our easily-fixable system. Affect change at a local level and it will ripple up. If one state goes proportional, I’m sure others will follow. Vote for state candidates that want voting reform, and after people are actually allowed to vote as their hearts demand instead of trying to game the system, the rest will follow.