March 12, 2018

Horse 2384 - The Terrible California Open Blanket Primary Vote

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have an unusual obsession with voting systems. As someone who watches politics in a mostly horrified fashion, as a third party spectator with no team, I find the contests to be interesting and the aftermath to be mostly horrible. It's bad enough to get bad government but to get bad systems which result in bad government being elected, and then pretending that the systems are fine, compounds badness upon badness. For instance, it was the badness of the US Presidential election system with the Electoral College that installed the current car accident of an administration in its crash site at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Due to historical accident, I live in Australia. Also due to historical accident, Australia has one of the best voting systems in the world. We have the Single Transferrable Vote for the lower house and Preferential Proportional Representation in the upper house of our parliament. We compound goodness upon goodness by adding compulsory voting as well as holding elections on a Saturday, which means that we get everyone having a say at the time that is the most convenient for the most people. The United States Of America doubles down on its badness of voting systems all over the place and possibly one of the worst is the system which votes in Californian Senators in the US Congress.

As with every state in the union (to which a giant two finger salute has been raised at Puerto Rico for more than one hundred years), California sends two Senators to Washington. That means that they get 2% of the total number of Senators because the Senate considers all the states as equals, as opposed to the more than 12% of Representatives in the House because the House looks at relative population. As with all Senators, they sit for six years and get elected in with every third House election.

California elects its Senators with an open blanket primary system, combined with first past the post. In doing so, they have managed to perform an act of exceptionally idiotic alchemy by compounding badness with stupidity. What this means is that the election is held on a statewide basis, with all candidates running at once, and the winners of the two Senate seats are simply those who got the most votes.
That sounds fair, right? Provided you don't think about it, it's fine but if you think about it for even just a little bit, then the badness emerges very quickly.

Suppose you have ten candidates in the election for Senate seats from the great state of Hamilton. There are only 20,000 voters in this state because when building a model, it helps to simplify things so that you can see how it works. Of the ten candidates there are two from the Bad Vegetable Party, seven from the Nuts Party and one from the Rock Through The Window Party. The votes fall as follows:

Bad Vegetable Party:
Broccoli 2648
Cauliflower 2352

Nuts Party:
Almond 1944
Peanut 1983
Walnut 1924
Macadamia 1761
Brazil 1866
Cashew 1952
3/4 Inch Hex 1904

Rock Through The Window Party:
Granite 1666

Under an open blanket primary for two seats, the two candidates from the Bad Vegetable Party both win despite the fact that a supermajority of voters didn't vote for them. What if they really don't like Bad Vegetables? As the two winners are Bad Vegetables (who together only got 25% of the vote), they will naturally claim that the result is fair, even though most of the electorate went Nuts (with 66% of the vote). The people who voted for the Rock Through The Window Party also didn't win anything and even though they have signalled that they are angry and want to put a Rock Through The Window in, the voting system means that there is no obligation at all to listen to them.

It should stand to reason that under a preferential voting system, then two Nuts would most likely be elected. If there was a proportional representation system in play as well, then there very well might be a Nut are a Bad Vegetable, depending on the factionalism of the voters and the combined voting power of the Bad Vegetables and the Rock Through The Window voters.

A system which can elect two candidates despite them not even being close to achieving a simple majority of voters, is nuts, elects bad vegetables and makes a lot of people want to put a rock through the window.
Yet this is exactly the system which California elects its Senators, and the Congress compounds badness upon badness with this not being unique either.

Now usually I wouldn't care about Senate races because as previously stated in this post, I live in Australia, but as someone who lives in that curious place called the rest of the world, even I can be affected by voting systems on the other side of the world.
I don't think it an act of hyperbole to suggest that the current administration is the third worst in history. Warren G Harding's had open corruption and the best thing that he did in office was to die, so that way he didn't need to be impeached. James Buchanan who actually was the worst President, presided over a country that actually did snap in half and he passed on the office to Lincoln who had to deal with a country that was at war with itself.
Objectively, Trump is not the worst President of all time but he probably needs to be impeached, given his belligerence, bellicosity, sheer incompetence at running the office, the amount of staff turnover, probable conflicts of interest, and the whole question of whether or not there was collusion and corruption in the process of him being elected.
The rub is that it is the job of the Senate to impeach the President but if the system sends people to Washington who are voted in via a bad system and then will not do arguably the most grave of tasks that an elected body can do; because they are of the same party as the President, then democracy will have failed the wishes of the people because the system itself is not fit for purpose.

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