Thinking "Outside of the Box"

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It's time to consider electoral systems again (Feb 04)

In its 16 Feb 04 edition, TIME Magazine's article "Does Bush have a Credibility Gap" finally addressed Bush's lack of credibility head on, sort of. As I have pointed out in previous www.onesalt.com articles, George W. Bush has in fact LIED on NUMEROUS occasions regarding MANY issues--a fact that has been corroborated in detail by numerous other web sites, books, and periodicals. But the editors of TIME and many other "mainstream" publications are still pandering to Bush supporters by offering up the Republican explanation that Bush may simply have "been misled." Nevertheless, it's comforting to see that such issues are finally being addressed by our mainstream media.

With the Bush Administration's efforts to create a democracy in Iraq in such a shambles, it's time we took another look at that situation from the point of view of how the rules of a nation's electoral system shape the nature of politics in a country. In my Nov 96 article on this web site, "The 'Golden Goose' of American Politics", I explain how our nation's Electoral College System guarantees the perpetuation of what is essentially a two-party system in America, and how because of it's rules, only moderate candidates with a broad-based (pretty much nation-wide) appeal will have a reasonable chance of getting elected. More than anything else, this has helped to ensure the stability of the United States Government in spite of the wide range of diversities that exist within our population.

In Iraq, however, the Shiites would love to have a direct popular vote electoral system, because religiously at least, they are the majority in Iraq. Despite the "virtues" of a direct popular vote electoral system that have been preached by many of our politicians over the years, the Bush Administration has at least had enough sense to recognize that such an electoral system would soon lead to civil war and anarchy in Iraq.

Iraq as a country was "artificially" created by the British after World War I specifically to break up the political power that the Kurd, Zuni, and Shiite populations would otherwise have had if the British had drawn the borders along the ethnic/religious lines that had existed in that region for centuries. Apparently, by drawing Iraq's borders to incorporate large, distinct Kurd, Zuni, Shiite populations, the British hoped that Iraq would forever be a "weak" country susceptible to the whims and manipulations of British corporations. But it didn't turn out that way. Ever since it was created, Iraq was plagued by factional violence to the point where it appeared to a majority of Iraqis that only a "strong man" like Saddam Hussein could effectively maintain law and order under such circumstances. Yugoslavia was another example of a country consisting of distinct ethnic populations that coexisted fairly well as long as a "strong man" (Marshal Tito) was running the country. However, after Tito died, it was just a matter of time before his country "flew apart at the seams." The massive bloodshed that we saw in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Serbia are similar to what we will see in Iraq unless a really strong government is established to hold those three factions together. A more workable and enduring alternative would be to break Iraq up into three countries, as happened to the former country of Yugoslavia.

If, as the Bush Administration apparently believes, the three-country alternative is "unthinkable", then the Bush Administration will need to begin promoting one of the following two types of electoral systems:

1. Implement an electoral system modeled after our own Electoral College System designed in such a way as to realign the nature of politics in Iraq so that an Iraqi candidate for Chief of State would have to attract widespread appeal among Kurds, Zunis, AND Shiites in order to win. See my Nov 96 article on www.onesalt.com for further details regarding this approach.

2. OR implement an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system as described on www.instantrunoff.com

The IRV works basically as follows: Instead of just casting one vote for one candidate, voters rank the candidates: 1,2,3, etc. (hence, the motto, "it's as easy as 1-2-3."). If no candidate receives a majority of the #1 votes, the candidate with the least total of #1 votes is eliminated. The second choice votes from these ballots are then transferred to the other candidates. The ballots are recounted, and candidates are eliminated in this fashion until 1 winner emerges with a majority of the vote. The animated links to the left can help clarify this simple process, but let's talk about why it's a superior voting system, first:

* When there are more than 2 candidates, it ensures the winner has a majority. Without IRV, the winner can win with less than 50% of the vote. How do we really know they have a mandate?

* It will allow more candidates, including independents and third parties, to get involved in a race, without being accused of "spoiling" the elections. Even if your favorite candidate comes in last, at least IRV allows your next favorite candidate to be counted. No more wasting your vote, and no more spoilers.

* It will decrease negative campaigning. To win, candidates need to get some 2nd and 3rd place votes, as well as 1st place votes. They'll be less likely to "go negative" if they need their opponent's voters, too.

* IRV saves money. Some states and local elections hold runoffs weeks later to pick the winner. IRV holds the runoff all in one election--saving money

It is important to note that unlike our own Electoral College System, the IRV approach would NOT encourage the creation and perpetuation of a two-party electoral system. Under an IRV system, there would be perhaps 3 or 4 major parties and numerous lesser ones. Hopefully, by virtue of the way their votes are being counted, the Iraqi population as a whole will accept whoever wins this way to be their legitimate Chief of State. But that remains to be seen.

(one grain of salt)

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Last modified on Sunday, February 29, 2004