Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez once said, “Our democracy is designed to speak truth to power”. Voting is one of the most direct ways to make yourself heard and is conducive to the overall democratic process. However, American democracy has adopted a form of voting which skews voices, and in some cases, even silences them. With the 2020 elections fast approaching, the question is raised: How can we improve the voting process?
Voting in America currently operates on a winner-take-all basis. The winner-takes-all system is wholly antithetical to democracy. Certain areas are historically red or blue, and the winner-takes-all system creates many no-choice elections. You either vote for the incumbent or you vote for a candidate with the same views as the incumbent, resulting in little tangible change.The frequency at which no-choice elections occur creates another issue: low voter turnout. The propensity for elections to force the public to choose between the lesser of two evils or between two identical candidates largely dissuades active participation. The winner doesn’t even need a majority of votes to win-they need a plurality. The plurality rule states that in order to win, a candidate doesn’t need to get a majority of the votes, they merely need to get more votes than any other candidate. The function of voting is to elect the candidate who the public feels best represents them, but the need for a plurality negates that function. To win, a candidate merely needs more votes than other candidates, not to be voted in by the majority of people. This can be seen by the Republican Party (GOP) primaries in 2016, in which Trump received only 13.3 million votes, meaning that the majority of voters did not want him to win the GOP nomination, but because of the plurality rule, Trump won.
In addition to skewing votes, the winner-takes-all system creates negative partisanship.Negative partisanship is the term used to describe the deepening divide between political parties. Elections, especially as an affectation of the winner-takes-all system, are no longer about voicing your support but voicing discontent or fear of the other party. This results in an election cycle where the focus of voters has shifted away from the policy advocacy of a candidate and towards the stream of invective directed towards the opposing candidate. Attack ads: ads paid for by a candidate with the intention to slander another have become a mainstay in American democracy, and have coincided with the adoption of our present voting system. Attack ads first rose to prominence during the election of 1828 when John Quincy Adams accused Andrew Jackson of murder in an attempt to change public opinion and defame Jackson’s character. This political tactic became a key issue in the 2016 election. “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Little Marco”, “Basically braindead Bernie”, the list goes on. Trump’s use of arguments redolent of an ad hominem normalized this behavior and made the election about a person’s identity, not their advocacy. Negative partisanship makes voting extremely difficult because policy choice rarely matters anymore, we’re forced to decide between candidates who politicize pettiness.
The winner-takes-all system has clearly stunted our democracy’s progress, and the solution lies in an alternative way of voting, like ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting is a system that allows a voter to rank candidates, instead of having to only vote for one. Another alternative is cumulative voting, which is where a voter has a certain number of votes, and they can cast them whichever way they choose. They could use all of their votes on one candidate, or split them among the other candidates. This has many benefits but is especially effective in granting the voter the ability to show the strength of their support for one candidate.
The most basic tenet of our democracy is participation. Without participation, our democracy would not function, but the ways through which we are granted the ability to participate in fundamentally dissuade participation. Our system is built on the axiomatic fallacy that the skewing of voices and the intentional distraction from policy issues is the best way to participate in a democracy. Solutions like cumulative or ranked-choice voting actively solve for the harms of the winner-takes-all system and creates a representative democracy that actually represents the public.