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.