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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Electoral reform

This post begins with a shout out to Sheryl. The reason for that will become obvious, or at least slightly less obscure, as this post continues. Part of this inspiration was a comment Snave made on my blog earlier in the comments section a post or two ago. The rest of the inspiration was from my recent realization that both of the major parties have held major influence for more than half of the lifetime of the United States of America, although both have mutated far from their original form, with only vestiges of their original shape remaining.

As someone of an independent and/or third-party bent, I have long since been concerned with the two-party system and am aware of its many and obvious failings. Ultimately, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: People vote for members of parties they don't like because the people they really like are from too small a party to be viable. This is especially true of elections of statewide or national offices, where third party candidates have about as much chance of winning as I have of hitting the Powerball, and frankly, I don't feel like driving to a state that has it. This problem, this dominance of two parties at the expense of all others, is a question that deeply concerned the people of New Zealand for years, culminating in the 1996 referendum,, that replaced their First Past the Post (FPP) system of electing members to their Parliament with a Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP, alternately known as the Additional Member System), where roughly half of their parliament is elected by the former FPP method (still used in parts of the United Kingdom and many current and former possessions thereof, including the United States), and the other half is selected from party lists in proportion to the percentage of votes each party received in the election. I'm not sure that I would like to see that large a proportion of Congress elected from national party lists as opposed to the current system, but I would like to see at least some of the seats in Congress elected in that manner with an increase in the number of members of each body, if for no other reason than to remind the rest of Congress that they are there to serve the nation, not just their patch of it.

That would address part of the problem, but not another core issue: In those constituencies currently served by the FPP system and in local and statewide elections, what method is used to determine the winner in single-winner elections? The FPP system, also known as Plurality voting, is something with which we in America are all too familiar, even if most of us have no clue what it's called. This system allows for the “spoiler effect” seen in the 1992 and 2000 United States presidential elections and encourages people to vote for those they don't necessarily like in hopes that someone they like less won't be elected. As New Zealand discovered (and later resolved), this leads to voter dissatisfaction and a reduction in the participation rates of the general public in political discourse. An interesting article on Wikipedia discusses various voting systems. The question then becomes which of the various criteria are most important in selecting a voting system. After doing some research on the various voting systems outlined in that article, I found that, of those listed, Approval voting, the Schulze method, and the Ranked Pairs method would be the best alternatives to the current First Past the Post system. The latter are newer variants of the Condorcet method, which, like the better-known Instant Runoff Voting, uses the ranking of candidates. However, unlike IRV, the various Condorcet methods guarantee that, if a candidate defeats all other candidates in a pairwise comparison, that candidate is guaranteed to win. While I prefer the Schulze and Ranked Pairs method over the Approval Voting method, I realize that technical issues may make the latter more attractive and easier to use in large-scale elections. This site has more information and offers the means for members to post their own test poll topics using various voting methods.

This is a topic that deserves far more attention than it has gotten thusfar in the United States, and it is my sincerest hope that this changes in the near future.


Sheryl said...

Having lived in NZ when the change took place, I have some opinions on their system. For starters, despite being a parliamentary system, New Zealand is still for the most part a two party system. The only difference is that a vote for a minority party means coalition power within one of the two parties.

I voted for the Alliance, which I understand has now morphed into other parties, but mainly is now the Jim Anderton Party. But basically the Alliance was an external arm of the Labour party, insofar as they NEVER would have allied with the National Party or ACT. Their power rested in whether they would or would not ally themselves with Labour. If Labour did not go along with some of the Alliance's wants, then the Alliance could break the colaition and Labour would not have enough vote to be in the majority.

However, the majority of votes in the country still went to The National Party and the Labour Party. The Alliance had something like 5% of the vote.

Oh, and FWIW the NZ system was based on the German system. But don't think for a moment that their system gets you away from basically a two party system. It just means that you can vote in a third party without throwing away your vote, which I applaud.

However, the NZ system also sucks because it's mostly an all or nothing government. Here we have committee with members from both political extremes, so when the comittee numbers are balanced, they at least have t debate things before intiating policies.

The problem right now is that we no longer have a balance in Congress, so committees don't have to debate anything. So we lost what protections we did have when the American voters gave up on the balance of powers concept.

Cause when I was younger, I remember the mantality of most voters was to not let either party get too strong to maximize damage control. And I think there is something to that.

Otherwise, you get these extremist positions that result in the pendulum affect, which I think these parliamentary systems are prone towards.

Cause restructuring the government every time you have a pendelum shift is not only inefficient and bureaucratic, but hardly cost effective. And it makes it impossible to make any valid statements comparing costs.

Because if you have a department in a government, and then you get a shift in leadership, then they take that department and take 1/3 of its responsibilities and create a new department for those jobs. Then they tell the public that they have downsized the initial department by a third. And maybe to their credit, the take the remaining 2/3 of the department and make it super effiecient. It works both ways. But my point is that original department has the same name it always did, but how can you compare funding bertween one administration and the next if they are either consolidating departments or subdividing them, which they always do. They always pretend it is for efficiency sake, whether it is or not, but it makes the numbers irrelevant.

The same is true for things like unemployment numbers. You make it impossible to qualify for unemployment compensation and then tell everyone that unemployment is down.

That's why I say we have to get our balance of power between the two parties back. Cause right now the republicans control EVERYTHING. And then people wonder why there are so many scandals and so much corruption going on.

Sheryl said...

Sorry for all the typos and left out words there. Didn't bother to proof what I wrote. Doh!

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Thank you for your input. As someone who hasn't been to New Zealand, I certainly don't have an insider's perspective on their government. Still, I think their system may be a way of keeping the big two honest. I would like to see the actual voting method change as well.

Snave said...

Thanks for the links, I went to the Wikipedia one and I will have to study it some more. I like the instant run-off voting concept.

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

At first, I liked IRV as well, but the problem I have with that is the possibility that a more popular candidate may be eliminated because people may have ranked him or her lower for strategic reasons, because in any ranked voting system, many people will vote strategically. To me, the Schulze and Ranked Pairs methods eliminate that concern while allowing for strategic voting.