Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Elephants, Donkeys, and Voting, Oh My!

A lot of Democratic voters (read: much of my Facebook feed) have expressed extreme surprise, if not genuine shock, at Trump's win. I wonder if their level of surprise is correlated with how they voted in the primaries. Much of Sanders' support came from people trying to serve the same need as the people who support Trump: the need not to feel consistently ignored by the people in power. My hypothesis is that Sanders supporters who voted for Clinton have no small helping of "told you so" to mitigate their "OMFGWTFBBQ!!!!111"

To be clear, the level of sadness and rage is completely understood, and I share it to the extent that a privileged, straight, white, cis male can. However, I can't say it came as a surprise.

Just before the election, Nate Silver seemed to be defending FiveThirtyEight's suggestion that Trump had a significant chance of winning. My trust in the quants grows stronger.

It's ironic and sad that so many people thought Trump would be the end of the Republican party, when it seems to be the exact opposite. But hopefully the level of success of both Sanders and Trump will be a wake-up call to everyone working to keep the status quo.

Speaking of status quo, there's the Electoral College. I know a lot of people will feel betrayed by the system because Clinton seems to have won more popular votes (albeit narrowly). On the one hand, in a first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system that is inevitably reduced to 1 or 2 choices, we really are being failed by the system. But the problem isn't the electoral college itself. I actually think the electoral college is doing exactly what it's designed to do: limit the influence of states that happen to have a disproportionate share of the population due to the chaotic interactions of geography, economics, and time.

The simple fact is that much of the country wants something that Clinton couldn't offer but Trump is willing to promise. National frustration with DC and Wall Street is at an all time high. Confused as we might be wondering why people believe he'll actually improve things for them, he definitely offers "something different."

But the problem isn't the voters or the electoral college, it's the way we actually express our votes. There were several candidates besides Trump and Clinton who many people would've been happy to see as President, even if they ultimately voted for a major candidate. But the way we vote, where every person gets a single "Yes" to assign to a candidate, has been proven mathematically to lead to a two-party (or one-party) system over time, and to minimize voter satisfaction.

Wouldn't it be nice if instead we could say "I would be OK with these people being president, but not these ones"? Or even better: "I really like this lady, I'd be OK with that guy, but NO WAY do i want HIM in office." In a hypothetical race, Bernie could still be on the ticket without taking votes from Clinton, people could vote for Stein, Johnson, or that guy from Utah without feeling like they wasted their vote. Even write-in candidates would have a chance of winning, if they reached a minimum share of the vote.

This kind of voting, known in various forms as approval voting, range voting, score voting, is in use at various levels of government all over the US and the world. The cool thing is that there is nothing in the constitution that dictates how popular votes are counted, only that the states pick electors for the electoral college based on the results. That means this change can happen in a grass-roots way, much like marijuana legalization (see what I did there?). We don't even need a constitutional amendment for this to work.

If you can't readily imagine the kind of difference this would make or are curious to learn more, have a look at There is everything from a simple high level overview down to thoroughly sourced arguments and original research. As I mentioned earlier, our current voting system has been shown to lead to a minimum of voter satisfaction. Not just suboptimal; one yes vote per person, first past the post, winner take all is worse than every other democratic voting system as far as producing outcomes that satisfy the most people. Even something as simple as changing it to "Yes/No" for each candidate makes a 'UGE difference.

Please consider bringing this up with your local, state, and national representatives. It's an achievable goal that would dramatically improve how Americans feel about their ability to be heard through their votes.

No comments:

Post a Comment