With the election looming, this might be a good time to re-introduce American voters to the alternative vote. This classic CGP Grey video explains how to adjust our voting methods to produce representatives that better fit our needs, and to eliminate the need to vote tactically. For the video impaired, I’ll explain.
The idea is simple. Instead of picking one candidate as the winner, a voter would rank each candidate from most favorite to least. 1 is most favorite, 2 is next favorite, 3 after that, etc. If there are any candidates the voter does not want to win, they just leave that space empty. What this does is take any votes from an eliminated candidate and gives them to the voters’ next choice until a single candidate can claim the majority. In this way, no one’s vote is thrown away by selecting a third party as their first choice.
In terms of the 2016 Presidential election, let’s say we have five major candidates to choose from, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson, Donald Trump, and Joe Exotic. On election day, the votes are tallied like so:
Under our current system, Trump would win. Under an alternative vote though, the first majority is not the end. Because the voters chose multiple candidates, we can eliminate the lowest ranking candidate and give their votes to the voters’ next choice. So let’s go ahead and do that.
The lowest-scoring candidate is Joe Exotic at 1% of the vote. Exotic voters also like Trump, so he bumps up to 40%.
We still have 4 candidates, so we then eliminate the next-lowest scoring candidate, Gary Johnson. Johnson’s votes were mixed among party lines, so his votes are reattributed accordingly. With three candidates left, the percentages change like this:
Next, we eliminate Hillary Clinton. Because everyone who voted for her listed party-mate Bernie Sanders as their next favorite, Sanders is attributed her votes. The final tally ends up like this:
In this scenario, Bernie Sanders is declared the winner, even though in our current system he would have split the Democratic vote and lost. In reality the attribution of votes would be more complex than this example, but it serves to show how a ranked voting system would better represent who the majority of people would want in office. It encourages multiple parties to join the race, and doesn’t penalize the voter for choosing the candidate that most aligns with their values first, even if that candidate is Joe Exotic. This leads to more honest, open voting, and less tactical, cynical voting.
If the U.S. adopted this voting system from the bottom up, we would likely see lots of benefits. Policy would be geared more towards moderate values and needs. Pandering to extremist fringes would dwindle. Each party would need to work harder to fulfill their campaign promises, as they wouldn’t be able to take party affiliations of voters for granted (it’s easier for individual candidates to lose, you see).
Perhaps we need to change how we vote before we’re able to change anything else.