The complexities of the American vote

Photo by Allie Ghisson, Student Publications

I consistently see evidence that the younger generations are not confident enough in the voting process in this country. Recently, I listened to an episode of the popular podcast Radiolab. In this episode, the Radiolab crew explores what could happen in the months after the presidential election if there isn’t a clear victor. Through the explanations of scenarios involving social media disinformation and faithless electors, one of the people they interviewed said something that really stuck with me. “Democracy is mostly a habit”, she said, and I realized that she was completely right. So much of our democratic process is based on our habits, on what we did last time. We simply cannot hang our freedoms on something as tenuous as habit. We need to push for voting reform that will eliminate the ambiguities in the American democratic process. One place to start is to remove the current system of two political parties and an electoral college and replace it with direct Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting sounds complicated, but it actually is intuitive to most of us. We rarely have only a single opinion on a topic. Generally, we have a favorite, then a second favorite, and so on, whether we’re talking about ice cream flavors or sports teams. Ranked Choice Voting taps into this in order to make voting more equitable.

When you vote in a Ranked Choice election, you select not just one candidate, but several. Voters rank candidates, indicating their first preference, second preference, and so on. The votes are then counted. If there is a clear winner based only on first preferences, then that candidate wins.

If, however, there is no clear winner after counting all the first preferences, the candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated from the race. The votes that indicated the eliminated candidate as first preference are then given to whoever is indicated as the second preference. This continues until there is a winner. In Ranked Choice Voting, your vote can actually live on way past when your top choice is no longer able to win.

Why would this change be good for America? Firstly, it would help us reduce the polarization that we see in our country today. Ranked Choice Voting makes it possible for multiple parties to exist and actually share power. Expanding the number of parties that can actually get elected will give the American voter more choices.

It will be easier for a voter to find a candidate that lines up with their values, and that candidate will not be hindered from getting elected by the system. A coalition government could incentivize politicians towards long-term thinking instead of just looking at the next election cycle to try to gain a majority.

The issues that politics deals with are almost never binary. Why should our political process be binary? Voting reform would also improve motivation to vote. So many people don’t vote because they believe that their vote won’t make a difference. Many others refuse to vote because their values simply don’t align with either major political party. Ranked Choice Voting allows for better expression of the nuances of people’s values, and allows for votes to have an impact even if your top pick didn’t make it. Instead of forcing voters to put all their eggs into one basket, it allows them to more accurately express their opinion.

If people feel that their vote can actually make a difference and that it can accurately represent their positions, they will be more likely to vote.

Our founding fathers predicted that partisan divides would be one of the biggest challenges facing this nation.

Grouping all of the varied ideas and cultures that America holds into two warring parties has given us nothing but gridlock and reduced confidence in our democracy, just as the founding fathers predicted.

While parties may be inevitable, there must be a way forward out of the morass of partisanship that we’re in now.

Embracing change and establishing a better, fairer, more engaging voting system is that way forward.