It’s that time of year again. Time for the world’s second largest Democracy by population, and richest Democracy by overall GDP to vote to select who is the best to represent their party on the Presidential stage.
Voting through most of American history has been difficult. Our nation, like almost every Democracy, has political parties and every election it always comes down to just two choices: Conservatism or Progressivism. Progressives believe in progress, a government that is strong and protects its citizens from business. Conservatives believe in small government, state’s rights, and traditional values.
In 2020, Americans call Conservatives Republicans, and call Progressives Democrats. In 1888, Americans called Conservatives Democrats, and Progressives Republicans. In 1860, we called Progressive Abolitionists Republicans and Progressives who weren’t were Whigs, and Conservatives were Democrats. In 1796, Progressives were Federalists and Conservatives were Democratic-Republicans.
While all these elections were interesting, there’s one even more interesting. One more interesting than the 1888 election, where Grover Cleveland the Conservative won the Popular Vote but lost the Electoral College to Progressive Benjamin Harrison. One more interesting than the election of 1860, where Abolitionist Progressive Abraham Lincoln won the election with only 40% of the Popular Vote in a Three-Party Race. One even more interesting than the election of 1796, where the electoral college appointed the highest ballot winner to the Progressive John Adams, thus making him President, while the Conservative Thomas Jefferson had the second most votes, making him Vice President.
That last arrangement was so untenable that the Twelfth Amendment was passed. This amendment entrenching the party ticket system with our nation for the past 220 years. It give us the modern interpretation of Article II, Section 1, which in turn grants sole power to state legislatures to determine how that state’s electors are chosen.
But even that election isn’t the one I want to talk about.
The election of 1824 was a cantankerous one. That year, the Federalist Party had dissolved and the nation became a single party state where everyone claimed to be a member of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. Under that backdrop, in the first election for which we have popular voting data, there were a slate of four candidates: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Cranford.
|John Quincy Adams
|William H. Crawford
With four candidates running, for what was so far the only time in history, no-one received a majority of electoral votes, 131. As such, under the Twelfth Amendment (as amended by the Twentieth Amendment), the election is decided by taking the top three or less candidates and having each state’s Representatives voting on which of the candidates they prefer, with the state going to whomever the most Representative for that state voted for. Each state gets one vote, and whoever gets a majority of states becomes President. If no candidate receives that state majority, then the vote is recast until a majority is decided.
In 1824, this is exactly what happened. Of the twenty-four states at the time, thirteen were needed to decide the election. Fortunately, since Henry Clay, having been eliminated as not being in the top three, backed John Quincy Adams, meaning that only a single ballot was required in the House of Representative to elect John Quincy Adams as President.
|John Quincy Adams
|William H. Crawford
If this were to happen in 2020 thanks to a third party candidate making it impossible for either the President or the Democratic Challenger to receive at least 270 Electoral Votes, then I personally feel the nation would be aghast. Most Americans don’t know about the Electoral College Voting Majority requirement or the state-based Congressional voting system, and would indeed by shocked to know that’s just what their Constitution says.
There must be a better way.
Like the election of 1824, the modern Primary system seeks to choose a winner by strict majority among a list of party-faithful Presidential Candidates. If no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first ballot, SuperDelegates in the Democratic Party (Republicans don’t have SuperDelegates) are used to put their fingers on the scale and the required majority changes to reflect this.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just pic the majority on the first ballot? If people in 1824 could just say without Clay and Crawford they wanted Jackson?
All these problems could be solved with Ranked Choice Voting. With Ranked Choice Voting, or RCV. Under RCV, you can say you prefer Crawford, but if your second choice is Jackson, then Adams, and finally Clay. Or you could say, like me, your first choice is Elizabeth Warren, because, among other things she supports the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, but my second, third, fourth, and fifth choices would be among the various other candidates.
What you do with that is a whole other question. Clearly, you could just ignore all but the first choice and see if anyone gets a majority. But that’s what we have now, and clearly a majority isn’t guaranteed.
Another possibility, very possible is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), where, instantaneously, a mock election is conducted with all the first-place candidates, and if no-one receives a majority, the candidate receiving the least amount of votes is eliminated and anyone voting for him or her will instead vote for their next choice. This algorithm is continued until one candidate receives a pure majority.
The problem with IRV is that it doesn’t guarantee a Condorcet Winner. The reason is easy to see if you have a series of ballots where, in aggregate, a majority prefer A over B, a majority B over C, and a third, unique majority C over A. In the vaguest case, this could produce C as winner even though a majority prefer A over C.
Another alternative, one I prefer, is the Schulze method. It is Condorcet and will match IRV when IRV doesn’t contain, for instance cycles like above. However, Schulze is a rather complicated, geometric voting system. Were it up to tabulations by hand of hundreds of millions of RCV Ballots, this would be impossible. But with modern computers, it’s facile.
Whatever voting system we use, it’s better than the system we have now with throwing the election to the House of Representatives or using SuperDelegates to ensure majorities.
And whoever you vote for this coming Super Tuesday or beyond, vote wisely, be informed, and vote with a free hand because the decision is yours. Just make sure you go out and vote!