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Check all the boxes that apply November 3, 2009

Posted by Paige of Quarrel in we're only gonna die.
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I’ve had a nagging thought in my head ever since I voted early this morning. What if I didn’t press all of the levers? What if I missed one? Will my vote be invalidated? What if accidentally I pressed two on one row and missed another?

It’s not like any of us would rather be voting on a digital Diebold VoteFixer(TM) that’s all insecure proprietary code and owned by Republican fund-raisers, but the current machines at least in the places I’ve lived are a mess too. There has to be a better way.

But here’s what I keep coming back to. If we ever could figure out a more elegant, more secure, more user-friendly, multilingual, fully accessible system for voting, why not incorporate better ideas about voting at the same time? I’m talking about more than just real campaign finance reform, reevaluating the original Constitutional small state solution, and ending gerrymandering. Freedoms should not be constrained by tradition.

Why not fractional voting? We do a lot more calculation in modern elections than the Framers ever envisioned anyway. Bigger numbers, more districts, more ballot questions. We have the capability to calculate fractional voting results now. But more than that, the current scheme’s a false choice. There were 8 individuals running for NYC mayor under 10 parties, because candidate here can be listed on multiple lines under multiple parties. A vote for Thompson on the Democratic line or on the Working Families line still goes to the same person. Why not allow voters to vote for Working Families Thompson and Democratic Thompson and count it as 1 vote for Thompson in determining the winner and as half a vote for each party in determining funding? That’d be a major blow to the current two party monopoly. (Duopoly? Biopoly?) I’d like to think that as disillusioned as voters on the left and the right are with their choices now, such a plan would have majority support despite the obvious legislative hurdles.

What about going further with fractional voting though? What about also allowing a voters to split their single vote between as many of those 8 individual candidates as they choose? Why can’t a voter cast a ballot that says they like the Republican and the Conservative candidates equally? What do we gain from the current process? Voter apathy? A nation perpetually divided near-evenly between two parties? An inordinate number of ballots are disqualified in every election because people try to vote for more than one candidate. I think those voters instincts are right though. I can say I like the colors blue and green but not yellow. Why do we run democracies like we’re ten-year olds? ‘No, you have to pick who’s going to be your best friend, me or Jenny, or I’ll never talk to you again.’ Hell, this is America; we wouldn’t stand for an artificial rule that you could only put one topping on your pizza, why do we have lower standards when we vote? We’re not only capable of calculating fractional votes, but we obligated by reason and ethics.

While we’re at it, how about solving a major objection people may have to fractional voting and the problem of elections without a majority (i.e. no candidate gets at least 50% of the entire vote)? Why not mandate a runoff in any election without a majority? Since our newer, more elegant voting system would also have to be designed to keep costs down and simplify vote calculation, it would reduce the financial and logistical burdens of a runoff. 8 candidates becomes 2 or 3 and a second, definitive vote is taken a week or a month later. Obviously, it would take a Constitutional Amendment to enact this for Presidential races, but we could put this in place for all other federal elections tomorrow. An end to election victors who begin their term in office with already low popularity and approval and an end to the frustration we’ve all felt watching the agonizing recount process. From Bush v. Gore to the fight over the Minnesota Senatorial race, I don’t think any American is happy with the state of democracy in the age of recounts and court battles.

I’ll leave the details of a better voting system to people who are a lot smarter, but I think we need to rethink how we vote in a bigger sense.

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