Preferential voting, the answer to third party candidates

February 24, 2004 Off By leigh

With many Democrats frothing at the mouth over Nader’s announcement and an indication via The Nation that:

With many Democrats frothing at the mouth over Nader’s announcement and an indication via The Nation that:

Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama jurist whose fight to display the Ten Commandments on state property drew national attention last year, is being courted by the right-wing Constitution Party as a potential presidential candidate. (The Constitution Party was on the ballot in 41 states in 2000, and retains a solid network of activist supporters nationwide.) With growing numbers of core conservatives angered by Bush’s policies on immigration, federal spending and individual liberties, a Moore candidacy could develop into a serious problem for the president. More than 20 percent of the voters in January’s New Hampshire Republican primary cast ballots for someone other than Bush; more than 10 percent of Oklahoma Republican primary voters did the same.

Third parties could well decide the outcome of the presidential race. Of course, the Democrats have now realised just what happens when they ignore the left wing of their party, which explains the right wing Terry McAuliff’s anti-Nader vitriol, they thought they had packed off the activists with the withdrawal of Dean. Let’s face it, it’s only February and the field of Presidential contenders has been reduced to two – we need more debate.

With Kucinich and Sharpton (although issues around his financial support by Republicans places very real questions about him) still in the race (though never real contenders), Nader will continue to put pressure on the Democrats to pay attention to left-wing issues. There is really only one choice for them, to totally absorb the policies of Naders position. There is an old saying (by Don Chip of the Australian Democrats) in Australian politics for the purpose of third parties: “Keeping the bastards honest”…

However what is off the agenda is to talk about how broken the electoral system is in the U.S.A. Australia has had a preferential voting system for many years. In this case, each voter numbers their candidates in order of preference. This incorporates both positive and negative weightings in the counting, such that it measures candidates most preferred as well least preferred by voters.

For example, in a hypothetical election where three candidates are standing and receive votes of 45%, 40% and 15%, in a “first past the post” system like in the U.S elections, the candidate with 45% would win, while 55% of the voting population declared they did not want that candidate. Which should be the stronger call, a minority call for or a majority call against?

By ranking each candidate in order of preference, votes are redistributed as minority candidates are eliminated in the counting. This puts the decision back into the hands of the voters, rather than the sorry state of U.S. electoral system which is that a voter who would prefer to vote for Nader then has his vote effectively transferred to Bush, rather than to the Democrat (which may have been his second preference had he been given the choice).

Now, the Australian system isn’t perfect, the Condorcet voting system (which was proposed in the 19th century) is an improvement over the Australian runoff voting system that balances voting redistribution when three candidates are close to one another. The U.S. should definitely adopt such a counting method, considering the extra complexity can be handled by computer program, particularly if it’s open source.

Another factor is that the U.S. system is set up to dissuade the electorate from voting, placing it on a Tuesday is a pure historical artifact. While I doubt a country which can’t even legislate seat-belt use would be able to legislate compulsory voting as is done in Australia (with a turn out of some 98%) or in less enforced manner in Belgium, there are definitely simple fixes to increase voter turn out from the shameful 40-60% typical turn out seen in U.S. elections. I mean, Papua New Guinea with non-compulsory voting, lower literacy, much less social and political infrastructure and over 800 languages can get an 80% turn out in their elections…