Monday, June 20, 2011

Voting is Almost Useless without a True Democracy

Voting is Almost Useless without a True Democracy by Tina Phillips
November 7, 2010

How many times do we hear that the election system is broken? In the recent 2010 election many independents felt forced to vote for Republican candidates even though they are dissatisfied with them as well as Democrats. A recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 59% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is somewhat likely that most voters will be disappointed with Republicans in Congress before the next election in 2012. In addition, 38% said it was “very likely.” Angry voters voted for “the other guys” because they did not feel they had a choice. Furthermore, about only 50% of people voted at all which could be symptomatic of a failed electoral system.

Moreover, recently there was buzz in the media about gays and lesbians voting for third party or Green Party candidates in the November 2010 election. The projected vote of gays and lesbians for third party candidates was due to the dissatisfaction with the Democrats ability or fortitude to push through reforms promised by President Obama on behalf of the gay and lesbian community. The controversy was that this would actually create a situation where since Democrats would get less votes and third party candidates would not get enough votes to win, that this would then cause Republicans to win as a result. This is a faulty electoral system at work.

The system was set up this way by the two mainstream and capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans, as a way to keep voters from voting for who they truly want to see in office— and that is just one way they maintain a monopoly when it comes to being elected to political office. Most people resort to strategic voting (voting for the lesser of two evils). This begs the question: is there an alternative?

The answer is yes. There are actually many alternatives that make up electoral reforms desperately needed for our country to become more democratic and to ensure those we vote for not only have a chance of winning, but that it will not inadvertently mean candidates we do not want elected, get elected.

One way to help us avoid this situation is to use instant run-off voting. Instant run-off voting is a preferential voting system where voters rank which candidate they want in order of who they want to see elected the most to the least. Then there are rounds of counting votes in which all votes are counted. In the first round all the first preference votes are tabulated. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Then that candidate’s votes are redistributed according to the next preference of the voters. This process repeats itself until one candidate gets a majority of votes within the candidates remaining. This helps make the system fairer by counting and redistributing votes. 

Another way to make elections fairer is putting limits on the use of personal funds in elections— both in personal wealth and from outside donations. This will stop the Meg Whitman’s of the world from trying to buy elections. Although this time around it did not work for her, it sadly does work for many people. Furthermore, we need to eliminate the Electoral College because representation should be based on population and thus the popular vote. In addition, allowing for ballot access will give all candidates from every political party a chance to be voted on and elected. Moreover, since all citizens have the right to vote, incarcerated people in jails and prisons should not be disenfranchised. Also access to media for candidates should be free and there should be equal access—including allowing third parties into the televised debates so more people can be exposed to their ideas too because that is only fair. Currently, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was created by the Democratic and Republican parties, has set up a rule that in order to get into the debates one must gain 15% support in five national polls. Not surprisingly the Commission on Presidential Debates has many corporate backers. If we want real change we can start by amending these unfair rules of debate.

Another major problem for us as voters that makes the system unfair is the dominance of money and corporate influence in the electoral system. If people with a lot of money are able to donate to campaigns, when politicians get into office they are generally seen as owing those who donated to them political favors. How are politicians going to serve our needs when they are busy serving their big corporate donors? How is that democratic?

One of the ways to free ourselves of corporate influence of elections is by providing public funding for candidates, which has also been called “clean elections.” This involves using tax payer money to fund elections so that any candidate can run no matter how much money they start off with. Under a clean election system, candidates who want to get public funding must first get qualifying donations from registered voters. After collecting enough contributions they are given money from the government, but only after they sign an agreement not to take money from private donations. If opponents take corporate donations the “clean” candidates can get additional matching funds. This will allow for more candidates to run for office who represent our interests instead of those of corporations. Sadly, California voters have turned down measures to create publicly funded campaigns in the past. We should really think hard about how much our democracy is worth to us. This is a reform worth paying for upfront to break us of the hold that corporate-funded elections has on us now, which is actually much more costly in the long run. 

The last and largest issue we have that stops us from being able have true representation and true change in our society is the way the system is set up as a winner-takes-all system. This is due to having single-member districts where one person (the person who got the most votes) is supposed to represent us all. Being as diverse as we are as a populace, that is simply not possible. To think that if one candidate gets just 51% of the vote that means 49% of us have to live with someone who does not represent us is just plain wrong. No wonder so many people just do not vote. They can see that their votes will not count. A recent Los Angeles Times article stated that people who do not vote “are younger, poorer, less educated and more liberal than likely voters.” Imagine what would happen to our society if overnight those voters had a voice?

Instead of living with this broken system we need what is used by most of the world’s democracies: proportional representation. The basic principle of proportional representation is that all political groups and parties in society need to be represented in our legislatures in proportion to the people who support them. So if say, 20% of America is truly supportive of the Green Party, then 20% of our legislators would be Green Party members. This would give everyone fair representation via multi-members being elected in a single district and finally we would all be free to vote the way we truly want to. Our elected officials will finally reflect the population they are supposed to and be able to serve us fully. That is true democracy.

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