Problem: Polarization + Gridlock
So many of us are frustrated by the polarization and negativity of our politics. This ‘us-vs-them’ mentality has Americans not just disagreeing with each other, but fearing and demonizing the other side. The root cause is an antiquated voting system that fuels negative advertising, discourages candidates with diverse backgrounds and perspectives from running, and can result in winners opposed by a majority of voters.
Under our current system, the candidate with the most votes wins — even if they haven’t earned a majority — and an extreme candidate with a committed base of support can win in a multicandidate race even if the majority of voters would have preferred someone else. In order to edge out competitors for plurality wins in multicandidate elections, campaigns have increasingly relied on negative attacks and pandering to the extremes rather than focusing on the issues that matter to a majority of voters.
Once in office, this hyperpartisanship prevents collaboration on bipartisan, common sense solutions. Partisans dig into their positions — reluctant to give “the other side” any sort of win. Rather than addressing and solving the issues that matter most to the majority of voters, government gridlock has become the norm, and nothing gets done.
Something on which all sides can agree: Our government is not working as it should on behalf of all Americans.
Problem: Spoiler Effect
Voters shouldn’t be forced to pick between the lesser of two evils. Plurality or winner-take-all elections are out of step with our increasing political diversity, number of third parties and voters who identify as independent. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s website currently lists seven political parties. Unfortunately, under our current system, only two parties have a realistic chance of being elected, and candidates outside of those two major parties can act as spoilers.
The plurality system forces voters to choose between voting for their preferred candidate — and risk helping elect the candidate they like the least — or voting for their second choice to avoid wasting their vote. In races with more than two candidates, it is likely that whoever prevails will have received less than a majority of support — something which has occurred in most Minnesota gubernatorial races over the past two decades. Governor Walz was the first candidate in an open race to win the governorship with a majority in 25 years! Vote splitting between similar candidates, i.e. the “Spoiler Effect,” allows unrepresentative candidates to win without majority support.
The spoiler effect is a problem in our current system whenever there are more than two candidates in a race. It is a huge problem — but it is particularly insidious when this effect is intentionally exploited. In the 2020 elections, there was evidence in both state and congressional races in Minnesota that one major party exploited the spoiler effect by intentionally recruiting third party candidates in order to siphon votes away from the other major party. We also witnessed this ploy on the national level when Republican attorneys were working to add Kanye West to the presidential ballot in key battleground states, perhaps hoping that he would take votes away from Joe Biden. Gaming the system like this is unfair to voters and dangerous to our democracy.
Problem: No Choice
Our outdated voting system is designed to be exclusive and limit voter choice on the ballot. Choice is limited in several ways:
- Voters feel constrained to vote for the major parties and avoid choosing a third party candidate, even if that candidate is their favorite, because they don’t want to “waste” their vote.
- Candidates with diverse backgrounds and perspectives have a hard time getting traction and are discouraged from running because of the spoiler effect and the tremendous amount of money required to run.
- Candidates on the general election ballot are chosen for us through unrepresentative primaries and caucuses decided by a small percentage of partisan voters.
- Many local elections in Minnesota have a summer primary where only a small, unrepresentative fraction of voters participate and limit the choice of candidates in the general election. These summer primaries have a particularly negative impact on voters of color who are underrepresented in those primaries, and this disparity in voter turnout between the primary and the general election exacerbates disparities in representation.
Without being able to express their true preference, voters become disengaged and dissatisfied with the process, and this causes many to withdraw from political engagement entirely.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can encourage voters to engage with a more inclusive and representative election system — that system is called Ranked Choice Voting.