Common Cause summarizes lessons learned thus far in Presidential Recount 2K
November 15, 2000 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Common Cause summarizes lessons learned thus far in Presidential Recount 2K based on feedback from members. They've also come up with a letter to the editor you can send to your local paper.
posted by veruca (13 comments total)
I dunno, I don't like the idea of a "second choice" candidate.
posted by owillis at 5:09 PM on November 15, 2000

How damaging to the ego, to be told "you're my second choice candidate." Sure, you're elected, but deep down you wonder if you're good enough. Are they still thinking of their fling with that third-party candidate when they're listening to your victory speech?

Oh, the jealousy.
posted by grimmelm at 5:49 PM on November 15, 2000

Apparently Common Cause is not familiar with the work of Kenneth Arrow, who proved that every democratic system has flaws. (It's a mathematical proof, by the way; it has no holes.) The approach they're describing can be abused just as much as the one we are currently using, because all voting systems can be abused and can generate results which seem incorrect. Arrow proved it -- and won a Nobel Prize in Economics for that work.

What they're proposing isn't necessarily better; just different.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2000

We have that system (auto run off / preferential voting) in Australia. Instead of ticking a box you put a number which indicates your preference. Everyone on the ticket would get a number (even Pat Buchanan). The system still favors two parties systems though because a vote for an independent or minor party nearly always winds up in the hands of either the Labor or Liberal parties.

Proportional representation, I think, is the fairest of all. 5% of the vote get 5% of the seats. We have that system in our senate and thta where independents, the Australian Democrats, the Greens and other minor parties operate successfully. Infact they hold the balance of power.

All systems are certainly flawed. But after watching the total and utter balls up which was the American election, I can say that no system is as flawed as the US system.

posted by lagado at 7:09 PM on November 15, 2000

I agree that proportional representation is another good system. I think the Australian system is pretty darn good altogether, actually.

And yes, IRV doesn't exactly put third parties on the same footing as major party candidates. Other reforms would have to occur for third parties to make better inroads (open debates, better ballot access laws, public financing, etc).

However, IRV would most definitely eliminate that tired old "spoiler" argument we heard throughout this election and throughout so many more. No longer would we have to sacrifice our ideals to vote for the lesser of the two evils.
posted by veruca at 7:22 PM on November 15, 2000

Yes, in Australia we get to keep our ideals and indirectly vote for the lesser evil. What we can't currently do is not pass preferences down the line ultimately to one of the major parties. You can't leave any candidate no preference indicated without invalidating the vote.

This is a limitation that some people have been trying to reform. i.e. you have to give Bush or Buchanan a preference no matter how distasteful you might find it.


2 Gore
5 Bush
4 Buchanan
3 Browne
1 Nader

Interestingly, a little known loophole in Australian electoral law would enable you to do the following:

2 Gore
2 Bush
2 Buchanan
2 Browne
1 Nader

This has the effect of nullifying the instant run off aspect and yet the ballot is still valid.

Now even quirkier, it's actually illegal under Australian electoral law for me to tell you about it! Last election a local activist named Albert Langer went to jail for a few days for refusing to not talk about it during an election.

So there you go, you just saw a crime committed before your eyes. Yes, officer, I'll go quietly now...
posted by lagado at 8:49 PM on November 15, 2000

The problem with pure proportionality in a parliamentary system (as exercised in Italy, for instance) is that it gives disproportionate influence to minority parties, because they're in a position to dictate the terms of a coalition to the bigger parties. That's also why Labour governments in Israel have tended to be short-lived, since the right-wing religious parties emerge as kingmakers.

In a presidential election, generally, there's no reason not to adopt some kind of proportional system. In France, for instance, you have two rounds of voting, with a run-off ballot between the top two candidates. That's complicated in the US by the fact that voting is a state-wide process rather than a national one: but it'd be perfectly reasonable to have 51 separate two-round elections.

And how about separating the presidential election from the congressional/state polls? It might cost more, but at least it would put an end to the multiplicity of ballots.
posted by holgate at 9:27 PM on November 15, 2000

[lagado] But after watching the total and utter balls up which was the American election, I can say that no system is as flawed as the US system.

Really, no system? I certainly hope you're just exaggerating.

Do you realize that 100 million people voted for not only the President, but for one-third of the Senate, all of the House, several governors, statewide legislatures, executives, and initiatives, and local races and initiatives? All of these elections went quite well.

Any presidential election this close would be contested given what's at stake. Even if we used popular vote to elect the president, the current difference in the vote is only two-tenths of a percent of the total votes! I cannot imagine a voting system so perfect that such a close vote would not be contested!
posted by daveadams at 8:11 AM on November 16, 2000

The only way to have stable governments not disproportionately dominated by small parties, within the context of a proportional representation parliamentary system, is to build in strong minority governments.

Basically, this requires a very strong Prime Minister who can be elected by a plurality of the Parliament, and who once elected has significant power: a fixed term which can be interupted only by a supermajority vote, the right to appoint Cabinet officers and judges without majority Parliamentary consent, the right to rely upon Cabinet or Executive Action to take critical budgetary and diplomatic actions.

The small party gets to influence actual legisation, and can fully influence the government but only by giving a large party (somewhat) irrevocable support -- without the ability to threaten withdrawal of that support later on.

This could easily apply to the Electoral College. It is reformed to be appointed in some proportional scheme ... so A has 47 Electors, B 48, and C 4. First ballot is cast based upon the committed votes, with only an absolute majority winning. Second and final ballot can be won by a plurality: If "C"'s Electors stick with him, B is elected. If at least 2 electors swing to A, and no more than 2 electors swing to B, than A is elected ... but C has _no_ influence over A thereafter, because he gets his four year term of office.
posted by MattD at 8:20 AM on November 16, 2000

daveadams: Really, no system? I certainly hope you're just exaggerating.

Okay, I meant no comparable democratic system that I am familiar with. I have never seen something so vital to the workings of a democratic system so riddled with flaws.

I'm not arguing that the result that close would not be contested but in the absence of an independent body to validate the results the whole thing has degenerated into a political wrestling match. Fairness and validity have been the first casualty.

Firstly, the vote can be demonstrated to have been severely compromised. It should not be the responsibility of the Democrats (or any other 'campaign') to prove or disprove this. It should not be up to the Republicans to cooperate or obstruct the process. It should be the responsibility of an independent body.

Secondly, the voting mechanism itself is so embroiled in state party politics (with plenty of allegations of voter intimidation, missing ballot boxes etc) that it makes me wonder if any of the elections held anywhere the country can be said to be truly valid. I believe that many should be held in doubt by Australian standards.

The system is slap-dash and inaccurate. A country which prides itself on expressing the will of its people through democracy could and should do a much better job of it.

Where's Jimmy Carter and the independent election observers when you need them?
posted by lagado at 3:52 PM on November 16, 2000

Yes proportional representation has problems in terms of electing stable parliamentary govenments. It seems to be about find the right mix between stability and representation. A little bit of instability and turbulence is good for the system, not enough leads to dictatorship, too much leads to chaos (as in Italy).

Still you Brits have to hand it to the Italians, despite having a basket case political system they have an economy which is out performing yours.
posted by lagado at 4:00 PM on November 16, 2000

Jimmy Carter made a statement supporting manual recounts. I think I saw it at Salon. :)

posted by norm at 10:45 PM on November 16, 2000

George Bush made a statement supporting manual recounts. I think I saw it in Texas Statutes.

"Oh, but it only makes sense here in Texas... not there in Florida."

These morons...
posted by baylink at 8:25 PM on November 17, 2000

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