In a sophisticated country with a myriad of political opinions, why are there only two major political parties, and one or the other always wins major elections?
In most elections nationwide, we use the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. As described in this Cap Times essay and due to Duverger’s law, FPTP inevitably leads to two dominant political parties which continually shift to each represent about 50% of the electorate, preventing the creation of viable “third party” candidates, or even multiple candidates within each of the dominant parties.
Voters are forced to vote tactically. That is, we don’t vote for who we want, we vote for who we like best that is “viable.” Often we vote for the least-bad candidate. Some common phrases that highlight the pervasiveness of tactical voting: “don’t throw your vote away,” “if he enters the race he’ll split the vote,” “viable candidate,” “spoiler,” “anybody but X,” “I don’t really like X but he’s way better than Y.”
FPTP forces you to decide between voting for who you want or whether you want to affect the outcome of the election. That’s not democracy.
Democracy means being able to vote for any candidate without fear of inadvertently helping your least favorite candidate. Democracy means having many candidates to reflect the full spectrum of the population’s ideals. Democracy means deliberation, not mud slinging, and appealing to our aspirations, not inflaming our fears.
Ranked pairs allows voters to list their preferences in order: first choice, second choice, and so on. The winner is the candidate that is prefered over all other candidates in 1-on-1 matchups. If no candidate is an outright winner over all others, if all of them lose to at least one other candidate, then the candidates who lose worst are eliminated until there is only one outright winner over the rest. In short, each voter casts a ballot with the candidates ranked best-to-worst, and the winner is the most popularly supported consensus candidate.
With this logical change to make voting a fuller expression of our opinions we would have less negative campaigning, more and better candidates, better discussion and a real democracy.
Madison should plant its flag on this issue. Across the country progressive communities and states are realizing the faults of FPTP and trying better voting systems. We should prove our commitment to governmental innovation and be a beacon for the progressively-minded around the country by adopting ranked pairs.