Can we improve elections and keep the caucus? Yes, we can

Vote_12345As you’re well aware, the Count My Vote effort is working to try and diminish the power of political parties in choosing their own nominees. In the process, they’re proposing radical changes to electoral processes that would greatly restrict ballot access and prevent many candidates from even running. While there is always room for improvement in our electoral process, CMV is merely a change, not an improvement. I’d like to propose a system of changes that would improve candidate selection while preserving the power of political parties to select their own nominees.

Eliminate all signature requirements for independent candidates.

Current state law requires independent candidates to gather 300 signatures or 1% of the total electorate for their office, whichever is less. This places an undue burden upon candidates who prefer to remain unaffiliated and discourages greater choice in elections. This requirement should be repealed to encourage more people to run for public office.

Allow candidates who fail to obtain their party’s nomination to drop affiliation and continue to run as an independent.

Currently, candidates who seek the nomination of a political party must obtain that nomination or be eliminated from the race. Allowing them to drop their affiliation and continue to run as an independent provides them an alternative to getting on the ballot. While incumbents may fail to obtain their party’s nomination, they would still have an option for retaining office. Affiliated candidates who do not get past convention would be able to drop affiliation in preparation for the primary. Affiliated candidates who do not win in the primary would be able to drop affiliation in preparation for the general election. Because of the penalty involved with dropping affiliation, especially if you have advanced as far as a primary, few candidates would opt to do so.

Change primary elections to weed out non-viable candidates.

The current plurality system forces a lot of otherwise good candidates out of the running due to the “wasted vote” problem. Adding in a bunch of new candidates only makes the problem worse, especially when there can be many single-issue or “novelty” candidates. A primary election can be used to establish the viability of all candidates without forcing you to make a single selection. For each independent candidate (including those who do drop affiliation after losing at convention), a voter can choose if they would consider voting for them in a general election. If they pass a certain threshold of support (say, 10-20%), they’d be considered viable enough to advance to the general election. A candidate’s ability to get to the general election would no longer be contingent upon who else is running. Candidates seeking the party nomination may participate in a standard plurality election to determine who would be the party nominee. While the nominee would automatically advance to the general election, the other party would have to drop affiliation to do so.

Change general elections to use instant run-off voting (IRV).

Our current plurality system encourages a lot of poor outcomes. Voters are often stuck between choosing the candidate that they believe to be best and choosing the most viable candidate they find acceptable. Third party and independent candidates often act as spoilers like in the most recent Virginia governor’s election. Closer to home, the outcome of US House District 4 could have been different if voters for the Libertarian Party candidate had been able to hedge their bets with Mia Love. This only gets worse as more candidates are added to the mix, especially when the victor achieves a plurality rather than a majority.

Instant run-off voting (IRV) changes that. Instead of picking a single candidate, you rank candidates in order of preference. If nobody gets a majority, the votes for the least popular candidate are redistributed to those voters’ second choices. This repeats until someone has 50% +1 of the votes. This ensures that opposition to a powerful incumbent can coalesce around a challenger.

Now is the time to make changes.

The Count My Vote effort is moving quickly and using a lot of misinformation about its aims, goals, and methods to radically close up the electoral system to voters and candidates alike. Disaffected Republicans are staging a hostile takeover that throws everyone else under the bus. Instead of changing the kingmakers in our state, let’s dispense with them entirely.

UPDATE: Here’s a flowchart showing how the election process would work with these changes.

Proposed Election System

The opinions expressed in the above post are those of the author alone.