Sunday, February 26, 2012

Third-party Primaries League

The U.S. has a First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system, which I'm sure just about everyone out there knows. It means that a candidate can win an election with a plurality of the vote, rather than a majority, i.e. the highest number of votes, rather than more than one half of the votes.

To highlight why this is a problem, consider this:
- One candidate, who believes in X, and disagrees with Y, gets 10% if the vote
- Ten candidates, who believe in Y and disagree with X, each get 9% of the vote.

Who wins? The pro-X candidate.
Who should win? Anyone but the pro-X candidate.

That example is a bit contrived, but you only need 3 candidates to see the problem in practice. Think of Ralph Nader taking a couple of percent of the vote in 2000. Most of the Naderites would otherwise have voted for Al Gore. If that had happened, the difference in the election would have been too pronounced for Diebold to have gotten away with handing the election to George Bush.

Anyway, countries like Australia have solved this by using a preferential voting system. There are plenty of ways of implementing preferential voting, and Australia's is a little bit mathematically flawed, but it's far better than FPTP. It allows voters to specify who they want to win, in a decreasing order of preference, so that if there first choice gets too few of the votes, their next preference will be chosen, down the line, until one of their preferences is in the top two.

The benefit of this is that it recognises that everyone wants different things, and builds compromise into the electoral system. It seems that most Australians don't really understand how the system works, so they still vote for one of the two major parties. There are even plenty of people who complain when the system works so well that a third-party candidate actually wins a seat.

But back to America... FPTP voting forces people into voting for one of two options, because anything else is a waste. It takes a massive, expensive campaign to run as a third-party candidate, because more people need to have you at the forefront of their minds than anyone else, rather than finding you the least objectionable in aggregate.

So, why not have a third-party primary league? Get all the free-thinkers, radicals, liberals, crackpots, conservatives, fascists and civil libertarians who are not affiliated with the establishment to joust it out to see which one of them gets to compete in a given election against the establishment.

It could be the latest reality TV show, which would solve the problem of publicity and allow the winner to compete on a relatively even playing field. If the compromise results for the third spots were good enough, and some of the candidates started winning elections, then the U.S. might even consider moving towards a preferential voting system overall, which would break the back of the two-party system once and for all.

It could be called Little Brother.

What do you think?

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