May 30, 2016

Horse 2117 - Send The Electoral College Back To College To Learn Something

The United States is slowly making it's way to the November elections for the President, House Of Representatives and Senate, like a great lumbering Routemaster bus which is headed straight towards the front door of a department store - everyone can see it coming but there's no way that the department store can get out of the way. In addition to this, the two political parties are like passengers who are busily trying to throw each other off the bus, with the last person remaining on the bus being declared the winner, even though everyone knows that whatever happens, it'll end in a hideous wreck.

Partly this is due to the fact that the fifty states have what is known as a "republican" from of government; which instead of meaning the same as the Latin roots res publica or "by the people", actually means in practice that the fifty states act like fifty staunchly independent countries, with no uniform practices whatsoever and no common sensible way of deciding anything. The six states in Australia think that they're little nations unto themselves but at least they begrudgingly agree (through force of legislation) to have a uniform voting system and one in which you actually get a chance for more than just two parties to rule the roost.

Australia has Instant Run-Off Voting in the House Of Representatives and Proportional Representation in the Senate. This means that in the upper house because there are quotas for multiple positions at once, you get a greater multiple of parties in that chamber. In the House Of Representatives which has single member districts, you still get the tendency towards a duopoly of parties but what that means is that candidates and parties who are similar in style and ideology, don't end up splitting their vote. This allows for the situation in western Victoria especially, where the Liberal and National parties actually bother to both field candidates against each other. To be fair the LNP in Queensland which is where a formal union of the Coalition has taken place, is really just the National Party with a few Liberals in inner-city Brisbane, tacked on for good measure.

I know that the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States are private organisations and they are at liberty to decide the rules to determine who their presidential nomination is, however they feel like but the 2016 race has showed that the general public is pretty fed up with the process of deciding the nominee. Both Trump and Sanders have said during this campaign that the system is broken and you have to admit that in those states where Sanders won a majority of votes but still took away less delegates because of superdelegates, that the pretence of democracy is crumbling, wih a worldwide audience watching on in horror. Donald Trump even said in as many words that he has stopped complaining about the system because he won the Republican nomination.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd openly admit that the current system of deciding who the nominee for President is, might have been useful in 1789 when you literally had to send delegates to Washington to decide who the President was but this wore out its usefulness long long ago. My solution to fix this problem is actually to rehabilitate the Electoral College; along with reforming the House and Senate.

Firstly, keep the House Of Representatives as single member districts. However, instead of making every seat a most votes wins thing (First Past The Post is a terrible description of what actually happens because that gives people the impression that you need to achieve half the vote and that is of course a lie), use Instant Run-Off Voting. That way if nothing else you end up with candidates meeting the approval of 50%+1 of the electorate at some point.
The Senate can be run on Proportional Representation lines. Yes there are only two Senators per state but at least this allows for the possibility that party can win both seats if the state all broadly votes the same way or they get Senators of different ilks if the state is more evenly split.

Onto the Electoral College. Currently, states conduct a statewide poll and whoever wins the most votes gets the entire allocation of Electors from that state. Technically you only need to care about a few states in order to swing the outcome of a presidential election and this shows up in the fact that hopeful nominees tend to only tour a few select states. It means that nobody ever visits the little states like Wyoming and nobody ever visits California because it almost always votes for the same colour.
My solution would be this. Get rid of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions altogether. They're pointless. Except when they're not pointless and they devolve into a massive bunfight. In their places, I'd implement a system whereby everyone in a state would choose their preferred candidate as now but instead of basically only getting one from each party, they'd get the whole game and dice to pick from. All the votes in a state would be collected and all the candidates across the parties would be ranked like one giant IRV ballot paper. The Electoral College would then not be say 29 votes from Florida all for one person but 29 identical ranked ballot papers, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. It would mean for instance that in this cycle, there would have been seven Republicans, maybe more than just two Democrats and possibly other parties appearing in the Electoral College. These ranked ballots (all 538 of them) would then be counted in the same way as any other Instant Run-Off Vote.

It probably would have meant that the race wouldn't have been between Hillary and Donald but between someone more sensible like Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders. An even more interesting consequence would be that you might even get two candidates from the same side of the divide in the running. The biggest plus though is that it would entirely eliminate the almost eleven month circus that is the Presidential race and reduce the whole thing to just one day.
I reckon it'd be ace if there were as many as twenty candidates all in with a shot instead of just the two. People might actually think about voting for who they really want to be President instead of tactical voting and the dumbness of things like the Never Trump and Never Hillary movements. Imagine that - something more closely approximating democracy.

Of course the best idea of all would be to have everyone in the United States simply rank all of the candidates in a 240 million Instant Run-Off Vote. That would eliminate both the party conventions and the Electorial College entirely. For that reason, they'd never agree to it, or indeed any sensible national voting system. That might let democracy out of its little wooden box and back into the hands of the people and we can't have that now, can we?

What is going to happen is the same thing that happens every four years. The people will yet again see the great lumbering Routemaster bus which is headed straight towards the front door of the department store, watch on in horror as yet another wreck happens and then on the Wednesday which follows, turn away and forget about it for another four years. It's like a bizarre Olympic style Groundhog Day.

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