Op-ed

Thoughts on a flawed voting system

Voting in America is very weird, we seem to emphasize acreage over population and we have an excessively binary political scene. Most of the controversy stems from our voting system. One person equals one vote – simple right? 

The actual outcome seems to leave anyone who didn’t vote for the top two political parties as having wasted their vote, which is undemocratic. If you haven’t read my other articles, you might not know I’m on the left side of the political spectrum; but, what I am not is a partisan. Republicans being bad doesn’t imply Democrats are good. I feel it’s important to mention this distinction because I don’t want to have a fight between parties, but a fight against the foundation of our two-party system and its consequences to then foster a better alternative. Let’s talk about what a “first past the post” voting structure causes in our nation.

It seems obvious that the person with the most votes should win if each person gets a vote but the method’s eventual result seems to be a two-party system. We call this “first past the post” because if you imagine the candidates racing, the first to pass the finish post wins. 

You can see the two party outcome of this process by using a logical structure. When a person goes to vote, they have a set of issues they care about, but imagine they only cared about issue. Then they will look at candidates that agree with stance  but often they care more about preventing any candidate who stands for the position not. This leads to them voting for whoever is both and the most likely to win instead of who they most want to win. This results in a system where people vote against an outcome instead of voting for one and this creates a culture where issues are scripted such that they stand against the loss of something instead of gaining anything. For instance, most people who are afraid of gun control seem to be more concerned with someone taking their guns than what they can do with their guns. It has created a system where we are more focused on not losing what we have than we are about working to fix the future – on both sides.

The “Great Law of Peace” is most noted for having a unique emphasis on long term planning – only acting after consideration for its impact on the next seven generations.

One of the many histories of the native people that has been forgotten was Haudenosaunee tribe and the input they provided in shaping the Constitution. The Haudenosaunee tribe had a “Great Law of Peace” that heavily impacted our Constitution, and the six tribes banding together were part of the inspiration to band all the states together instead of forming separate nations. The “Great Law of Peace” is most noted for having a unique emphasis on long term planning – only acting after consideration for its impact on the next seven generations. Today’s U.S. citizens, on the other hand, argue about copious  impactful issues but ignore the existential threat of climate change, essentially giving up on our next generation. This lack of foresight is a direct result of our focus on protecting what we already have, which is a direct result of our voting system and our partisanship. 

The other problem with our fear of loss is that it forces us to group up into binary stances. If a three voters care about issue “a,” “b” and “c” respectively, but also all care about “d,” they will group up to pick a candidate who advocates for “d” and doesn’t advocate for “not a”, “not b”, and “not c”. This is the logical thing to do because one voter will be able to not lose on an issue they care about while knowing that the others will vote for the same person because they realize the situation as well. This is a version of the prisoner’s dilemma, a thought experiment that demonstrates how game theory works. When applied to our voting system, using this fear fueled rationality is called strategic voting and it’s what we are all accustomed to doing. Think of the people who said Trump would beat Sanders as their rationale for voting for Hillary in the primary, or people who voted for Trump to make sure the Supreme Court nominee was conservative.

The voting system we have has been abused far beyond a rational point as we saw in the North Carolina 9th district voter fraud controversy. I don’t think the actors are worth discussing, bad people will act like bad people; but, what is important is the problem of people putting party over country. The specifics of the story are very sensational, but not substantive in assessing the significance of the event and what it represents in our nation because of the division we see today. People have no respect for each other. 

When the Republicans controlled all three branches of government, they were still unable to have a 60 percent majority on healthcare and the tax cuts. Instead of humoring the other side, the Republicans went full Eric Cartman and decided their agenda was more important than convincing the populous or the other side and went nuclear. Now President Trump is calling for a national emergency to build his wall because he can’t get the votes. These contingencies, like the nuclear option and declaring a national emergency, are designed because our process is intentionally slow and thorough and entirely not designed to respond to rapidly developing situations. These are tools to be used with reverence instead of as a method to bypass and essentially erase the Constitution. I won’t even go into how ridiculous gerrymandering is. 

All these problems stem from our system and are a reflection of the template laid out in a time before the light bulb in a world that, in respect to our ability to communicate, is infinitely small. The system now fails because the entire world is a keystroke or thumb swipe away and we can and are essentially forced to work together to beat the system, so the other side doesn’t. Principles and values are contextual and can be applied in any point in history, what we have failed to do is adjust our system so that it naturally emphasizes our minority voice and has us voting for something and not against.

What this voter fraud controversy demonstrates to me is that we need a tune up, that our system has been read, learned and abused; and, the best alternative I can see is an instant runoff voting system. The nature of the system is too complex to discuss here, so I encourage anyone who is interested to look at CPG Gray’s YouTube video ”The Alternative Vote Explained” as well as “Mixed-Member Proportional Representation Explained.” Gray does an excellent job explain the implications and results of a voting system. What we have in our current discourse is a set of symptoms, we must recognize that before we can work to solve it. In the end, politics is just our way of trying to make a world we can live in together, not have our party dominate. 

Charles Baker is a third-year student majoring in Philosophy. CB920546@wcupa.edu

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