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Jeanne Massey and Jeff Peterson: Now it’s time for electoral reform

Now it’s time for electoral reform

 
Maine voters have taken a bold step toward changing the broken electoral system that rewards extremism and ignores the will of the majority. Now it’s time for Minnesota and the rest of our country to follow their lead.

This presidential race is forcing many Americans to take a good, hard look at the electoral system in place – and how it failed them. Donald Trump won but lost the popular vote; he won a primary in which most Republicans voted for someone else. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary, but many Bernie Sanders supporters believed the process was rigged. By all measures, the campaign was one of the most divisive and polarizing in the history of American electoral politics.

The result? Nearly half of all eligible voters felt excluded by both Trump and Clinton and simply stayed home (an estimated 47 percent, which is substantially more than during the past two presidential elections). Others voted, in vain, for third-party candidates. In fact, nearly 5 percent of voters split the majority votes and, wittingly or unwittingly, played the “spoiler.”

And so we must ask, “Why?”

Pundits will fill the airwaves, social media sites, and newspaper opinion pages for weeks pondering that question. We hope a few will look beneath the obvious answers to what we at FairVote Minnesota believe is the real reason: our broken electoral system.

Imagine a more effective system

No matter whom you did or didn’t vote for, this election is a wake-up call for our country. How can we accept an electoral system in which fewer and fewer Americans have faith?  

Imagine, instead, a democracy in which:

  • Party nominees are selected on the basis of majority choice, not “last man standing.”
  • Campaigns are based on civil and substantive dialogue and debate.
  • Candidates are rewarded for reaching beyond their base to appeal to a broad majority of voters – and punished by the loss of votes for waging negative attacks on their opponents.
  • Voters have more than just two candidates to choose from, and they can vote for the candidate that best represents their values without fear of helping elect the candidate they like the least.
  • More voters turn out because they are excited by the range of choices on the ballot and have someone to vote for, not against.
  • Winners are elected by a majority of voters.
  • Compromises are sought, not shunned.
  • Our nation benefits from the best ideas and most collaborative leaders.

Maine voters choose ranked-choice voting

This vision of a better democracy has just become a reality in Maine. Voters there – fatigued by decades of governors elected with a mere minority of voters – decided it was time to fix their broken system by adopting ranked-choice voting.

Many cities in the U.S. – including Minneapolis and St. Paul – use and love RCV, but Maine took it to the next level. Passage of the statewide ballot measure means anyone running for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, state Senate or state House seats in Maine must be elected by a majority of voters.

Maine has taken a bold step toward changing the broken electoral system that rewards extremism and ignores the will of the majority. Now it’s time for Minnesota and the rest of our country to follow their lead. We at FairVote Minnesota believe if enough cities lead, states will follow. And when enough states lead, the nation will follow.

Instead of giving up on our democracy, do something concrete to make it work better! Ask your city councilors and mayors to adopt RCV for your local elections and urge your legislators to pass a local-options bill to give all Minnesota communities the freedom to use RCV if they wish.

Our constitutional democracy demands our participation – not just during elections, but all the time. We must keep working together for electoral reform to ensure that our leaders represent all of us. Reform also will help to ensure that our best and brightest do not cynically shut their hearts and minds to the democratic process altogether.

To be sure, RCV is just one of the changes we need to restore our democracy. We at FairVote Minnesota, including the many people who have joined our ranks, look forward to collaborating with others working to ensure fair, voter-driven, participatory and inclusive elections. Please join us!

Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota. Jeff Peterson is the board chair of FairVote Minnesota.