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Election 2016: "One Person, One Vote" Kills Real Choice

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Voting booths
Voting booths
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As you may have noticed, we're in the middle of yet another American presidential election (our 57th). The news is full of musings about party primaries and delegate counts and possible brokered conventions, but if things proceed as usual, as many as 130 million Americans will cast votes in November. A winner will be declared based on popular votes in the states as transmuted into a total of 538 electoral votes (if no candidate receives at least 270 such votes, the US House of Representatives chooses the next president).

Seems orderly and natural after 56 such exercises, doesn't it? But "one person, one vote, the first candidate past the (plurality or majority) post wins" is a polarizing and not very representative way of doing things.

Many of us vote for our second choices -- the "lesser evils" -- because our first choices "can't win."

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Many of us could live with either of two or more candidates, but vote for the one who "can win" rather than the one we may like best.

What if you could vote for ALL the candidates you like, instead of just one, secure in the knowledge that your vote(s) would not be "wasted" on a loser, or "spoil" the chances of one of your preferred candidates, resulting in election of the "greater evil?"

You could, if the United States adopted any of several far more rational voting methods. Of the three that come to mind -- Instant Runoff, Single Transferable Vote and Approval Voting -- I'm going to describe only the last one, both to keep this column short and because it's my own favorite. Here's how Approval Voting works:

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You vote for as few or as many candidates as you like. All the votes are counted. The candidate with the most votes wins. Yes, it's really that simple.

Assume that this November (as seems likely), your ballot offers you the choice of Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian John McAfee or Green Jill Stein.

If you're a progressive, you prefer Stein to Clinton, but reluctantly pull the lever instead for Clinton because you really, really, really don't like Trump, and Stein "can't win."

If you're a libertarian, McAfee's the only even remotely acceptable choice. Maybe you'll just stay home and watch re-runs of "Modern Family" instead of bothering to vote for someone who "can't win."

Under approval voting, progressives could vote for Stein and Clinton, libertarians could vote for McAfee alone" and both candidates would likely receive second or third votes from people who also vote for Trump or Clinton. Every vote -- every VOTER! -- would count.

I'm not sure what effect Approval Voting would have on this year's presidential race, but over time I suspect we'd start seeing successful independent and third party candidates for seats in the state legislatures and Congress -- and eventually the White House.

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Better election outcomes require better voting systems. Visit the Center for Election Science (electology.org) to learn more about Approval Voting and how to help put it into action in your city, county or state.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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