CHAPTER 12: WHAT TO DO--A MODEST PROPOSAL

 

 

                                                      CHAPTER 12

 

                                    WHAT TO DO--A MODEST PROPOSAL

 

In a sense, the following two items are sort of summaries of what needs to be done in the voting area to improve out political processes.

 

The first item is a copy of the response by Professor Steven Brams to my initial "manifesto" published in the third chapter of this book.

Its importance lies in underlining the real scandal of the 2000 Florida election which, outside of a few lonely voices such as Bram's, virtually got no attention; a major indictment of our media in my judgement.

 

The second item is the text of an op-ed I have been working on with another supporter of approval voting.  It outlines the efforts which I believe need to be taken to bring about the voting reform the country sorely needs.

 

My appeal to the reader is to join in serious efforts to bring this about.

  

Date: Wed, 24 Jan 2001 19:25:02 -0500

To: John Wilhelm

From: "Steven J. Brams"

Subject: Re: Political Subversion. (fwd)

 

 

Dear Dr. Wilhelm:

 

      That's an excellent manifesto, if I might call it that.  More specifically, I think you're very much on target on the constitutional-legal issues.

 

      I would be glad to help where I can in your subversion.  Indeed, this semester I'm teaching a new course, "Political Engineering:  The Design of Institutions," and have attached a syllabus.  You can bet that approval voting gets some attention in this course.

 

      I think the main problem we face is in raising the political consciousness of voters about practicable alternatives to the present electoral system.  Although I was interviewed a lot after the presidential election, I think my efforts to point out that the Florida antics were the small stuff--the big stuff being that we have a fundamentally flawed system--were only partially successful.  Much of what I said was drowned out by the day-to-day drumbeat about chads, dimples, the undercount, and other election irregularities.

 

      It would be nice to find an "angel" who might bankroll a major national campaign for electoral reform and, in particular, promote approval voting.  Short of finding such a person, I applaud your efforts at putting together an organization.  It's going to take a lot of work, including writing letters, op-ed pieces, popular articles, etc., which I know you've already done some of yourself.

 

      Good luck!

 

      Steven Brams

 

>Professor Brams, I thought I would forward you the following message

>concerning an attempt of some of us to get together in a plot to

>undermine (change?) the American political system.  I would be

>interested in any comments you might have on the piece I wrote on this

>issue which is attached below.  Regards.

 

 

                    A Proposed Op-ed on the Issue of Voting Reform

 

 

                                    Third Parties, Approval Voting

 

                                                  and Voting Reform

 

 

Several alternative systems for electing a single winner have been shown to be far superior to plurality voting, our current system.

Plurality voting, which allows citizens to vote for only one candidate, suffers from various flaws.  For example, in a race with more than two candidates, plurality voting may elect the candidate least acceptable to the majority of voters.  Also, plurality voting forces minor-party candidates into the role of spoilers, as we saw in 2000.  If that Presidential election had been run under approval voting, Al Gore would very likely have been elected President.

 

A problem with plurality voting is that most people are afraid to vote for a minor party candidate who has no real chance of being elected, preferring instead to vote for the "lesser of two evils" between the two major parties.  Is there one single politician now in the U.S. Congress who has spoken up in any significant way on such issues as immigration and population policy or peak oil and its consequences and implications?  We need to be able to get candidates who will speak up about such issues as a major part of their campaigns and for whom people could vote without feeling they are "throwing their vote" away on someone who has no chance to be elected.  With the current system, does anyone think we could ever get a Republican or Democratic candidate to candidly discuss such issues as a serious part of their campaign rhetoric?

 

Here is how approval voting (AV) works: If more than two candidates are running, you can vote for ("approve") as many as you want.  Thus, in 2000, those persons who preferred Ralph Nader to Gore or Bush, could have voted for both Nader and Gore.  Approval voting is very simple and easy to understand.  There is no ranking; the candidate with the most approval votes wins, ensuring that the winning candidate is acceptable to the largest fraction of the electorate.  There are other systems, more complex than AV, including several where one ranks the candidates, but for reasons we can't go into here, AV is preferable.  Approval voting has been used by a number of professional societies and in some other elections.

 

To get better election results a serious effort to implement AV is needed.  Given the requirements of the Constitution, Article I, Section 4 and the 14th Amendment, and the precedent in Oregon v. Mitchell in a 1970 Supreme Court decision, it is clear that AV can be mandated in federal elections by a simple federal statutory act.

 

Such an act should do three things: 1) Mandate approval voting in all federal elections, 2) Mandate a place on the federal ballot for five political parties, four occupied by the four top parties in terms of numbers of votes cast and the fifth position filled by a nation wide competition open to other parties and groups, and 3) Give congressional approval for an interstate compact to allow the allocation of state electors to the candidate with the most popular votes as long as that candidate has at least a 50% approval rate.

 

The statutory logistics of passing such an act are very simple; the real question is: How to achieve this politically?  It has been argued that the two major parties will never countenance such a change.  This could be, but we will never know until such an effort has been made to put this issue on the national agenda--something that has never happened.

 

Three things can bring this about.  First, we need to have a public discussion on how to improve our political processes, including our elections, to improve the operation of our political system.  Second, those wishing for real changes in our political processes need to organize a petition now to Congress for the voting reform the country sorely needs.  And third, the electorate ought to make it clear that they will not support any Democrat or Republican in the next election who cannot support a better voting system for the people to express their preferences in elections and open up our political processes to responsible third parties and to more independent individuals.