I believe our democracy is sick and needs attention before we wake up and find that it has passed away. The sickness is not the republicans or the democrats, it is the increasing influence over our elected representitives by powerful special interests, enabled by a system with only a few simple yet devistating flaws.
I am not suprised that the people who are responsible for raising significant amounts of campaign money for candidates are the people who later have regular access to them. Unfortunately this quantity and extent of access is often taken at the expense of those who are supposed to be represented. As I watch the behaviour of elected officials at the federal level, I can’t help but notice that the interests of regular people are all but ignored while powerful interests are well serviced.
I have thought long and hard on this problem and I believe that this large problem can be reduced down to two small ones. My goal was to find some simple changes to our current system that would help get our representative democracy back on track. The answer is not to vote for one party over the other as they both show the same symptoms of entrenched special interests. The two overall objectives are better candidates for office by shaking up the two party system and lowering the cost barrier of entry, and reducing the corrupting effects of money in campaigns. The road to these two objectives are to make two specific changes to our campaign and election systems.
Step One: We need public funding of elections. I understand that we cannot force candidates to be bound by a public financing system, it needs to be volintary as it currently is in Connecticut. The past has shown us that candidates have to spend a large amount of their time raising money. With public financing this time can instead be spent with constituants instead of sources of campaign money. This can lead to representitives who are more in touch with their districts and less entangled with large donors.
A side effect will be more candidates running in each race as the cost barrier to putting forth a serious run for office is decreased. I say new blood is good, but what about critics who would say we would just be sure to have a spoiler in every race? This leads us to…
Step Two: We need to move away from a voting system that gives victory to the candidate with the most votes, to a system that does a better job in determining a majority. For example in 1992 Bill Clinton won the White House with only 38% of the vote, not a majority of the voters. Perot was considered a ‘spoiler’, if he was not in the race would George Bush have won re-election? In a parlamentry system a majority is required to win election, if there is no winner a runoff election is held. This is not practical with a large number of voters because motivating them to go to the polls is hard enough on a single day, never mind adding runoff days.
A proven system that is used in many organizations and municipalities is instant-runoff voting or IRV. It provides a method to include the runoff in the initial election by recording a voter’s preference for each candidate (my first choice is, second choice is, etc.). A good explanation of how it works can be found here (at http://www.instantrunoff.com). IRV has been accepted in Berkeley CA, San Francisco CA, Burlington VT, and Ferndale MI. South Carolina has instituted IRV for military voters from cities that have runoff elections.
IRV can also be introduced into elections that do not currently require a runoff when no majority is reached. This would provide the biggest payoff to state-wide elections, the cancellation of the spoiler effect. It would no longer be a problem if 20 candidates ran for governor, senator, or congress because with IRV the preferences of the voters can be accurately recorded and applied. The candidate elected would be the one who most closely represents the choice of the voters.
I believe these changes are needed and soon. If we had public election financing and IRV in every state then we would have a senate and house of representatives that truly represent our citizens.