We’ve done more than our fair share of coverage of the mess that resulted from the GOP primary voting process in several states this year, but the system appears to be delivering a winner after all. (Yes, yes… I know. Calm down.) But if nothing else, it may shed some light on the need to fine tune the process for the next cycle. Still, how radical do we want to get in fiddling with the machinery? If you really think that we need to reinvent voting entirely, Kathleen Parker at the Washington Post wants to toss a few ideas out there.
We’re currently using the boring old method of having people show up at a voting booth (or crowding into a room for a caucus in some cases) and casting one vote per person for the candidate they would like to win the nomination. Well.. we do that in most cases, though some places such as Colorado, North Dakota and Pennsylvania seem to feel the idea of one person one vote is quaint and no longer required. Parker is suggesting we move into a whole new concept of voting, based on something known as an “approval” ballot. It dates back to an idea she dredges up from the 1770s in France with a few possible modifications for 21st century America.
Based on this, Parker offers up three different methods of casting votes for our consideration.
Through election by order of merit, now known as the “Borda count,” each candidate was awarded a number of votes equal to the number of candidates below him on each voter’s ballot. The candidate with the most votes won.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries to 1977, when New York University politics professor Steven J. Brams and decision theorist Peter C. Fishburn devised “approval voting,” which is similar but even simpler. By their method, voters would cast a vote for each candidate of whom they approve, in no particular order. The candidate with the most votes would win.
Another ranking method, advanced recently in the New York Times by economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, was developed by 18th-century mathematician and political theorist Marquis de Condorcet. This process called for ranking candidates in order of approval — or not ranking them at all, as an indication of disapproval. The candidate with the highest approval ranking would win.
That Borda count really rips the idea of one person one vote out by the roots. The value of your vote would actually depend on how everyone else voted. If you happen to vote with the majority in a field of five, your guy gets four votes. If you are in the extreme minority your vote only counts once. The Brams-Fishburn plan is even more strange, because you could, if you wished, vote for everyone. Of course, that renders your vote meaningless, but if you only vote for two people I suppose it lends some weight to the idea of giving the nomination to someone with tepid but very broad appeal over a very divisive candidate with a simple plurality and no second choice support.
The Marquis de Condorcet idea is probably the one most similar to suggestions we’ve heard previously which would avoid a runoff election such as we see in some states like Louisiana. If you are allowed to cast ranked votes for first, second and third choices I guess it provides a somewhat better snapshot of the will of the populace, but it still muddies the waters. If a candidate isn’t the first choice of a voter, why are they registering any support?
In the end, this sounds like a series of options which are not intended to improve the voting process, but are instead designed to specifically stop Donald Trump or some later analog of the bushiness mogul from winning. With apologies to Ms. Parker, basing a system on a single person’s results doesn’t seem like a sound plan. Perhaps we should just stick with the one person, one vote idea and simply make sure that all the votes count and all the delegates are bound to the candidates in proportion to the popular votes they receive. That just leaves us with the question of what to do when we wind up with a plurality. I have no answer for that puzzle, but we’d better find one because given the way the parties’ respective bases seem to be splintering these days we’re going to be seeing more of the same in the future.