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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Democratic Voice, A Third Party

What is it that makes American politics so disgusting? Is it the way that it has become so polarized, is it the special interests and the money that so thoroughly influence elections, maybe the capitalist power/finance based system, or more pointedly is it simply America's version of representative democracy itself? I think the real answer is all of the above factor in and more still of course. But there is one short-term thing that could jolt the system a bit off its downward spiral. Creating a means for a third or even more political parties. There is a simple fix for this, and one that is tried and tested in other successful democracies. Carrying out two rounds of elections.

I know it can be a dirty word in much of American politics – “Europe” – but the Europeans have a thriving electoral system that allows for countless party affiliations, yet still boils down to just a few more powerful players. Granted parliamentary styled democracy is different than the US version, but one profound key to their multiparty system, is that many of their electoral processes offer two rounds in each election. In the first round, the electorate can vote for whomever they wish, and then if no one candidate attains a 50% majority, the top two candidates from the first round run off in a second round about a month later.

This does several things, one, it allows more ideas and voices to be heard and supported, allows the run up to the election to be more about issues than person attacks, and it allows for people to actually be able to vote for who/what they want in an 'ideal scenario', but then to vote for the eventual 'realistic' options (same as today, just with more knowledge). Today's system wouldn't change much and most likely not the outcome as entrenched money and power will still rule the show, but more voices would be a huge boon for the public.

Obviously when we think third parties in the US we think Ross Perot and Ralph Nader. Both men made huge strides towards a more encompassing electorate choice. But the biggest legacy of them will be that no one will vote for a third party again as the 4% that voted for Nader brought possibly one of, if not the most polarizing political figure in recent memory to power. Most of that 4% would have been much happier with a democrat in power than a Republican, but there was no real option to express this productively then or now. As a result America got a president without a proper mandate as neither Bush nor Gore even had 50% of the American population's support, and more importantly we gained a lesson in 'wasting' a vote. This is a democratic disaster.

Think about the choices in front of us today. One or Two, Republican or Democrat. These two parties stand for and do certain specific things and look at specific issues in specific ways, but for the most part many of the views within each of those parties are ideologically opposed. What if you are a highly religious person and you believe strongly in compassion and social safety nets for the poor, the unemployed, and the otherwise less fortunate? The Republican platform does not allow for this as economically they espouse free markets, less governmental intervention, and decreasing federal programs (the same unemployment, health care, welfare, and other governmental programs that directly affect these people in need). And say you are an environmentalist and basing your desired policies on green initiatives, or a member of the working families party looking for stronger unionization and support for blue collar workers, neither party will stand up to corporate interests to really push for these policies. Maybe you want state ownership of some aspects of corporations – more revenue to the state and more governmental intervention in business. The Democrats don't support this, only greater expanse of state funded programs, not ownership. Simply put, democracy should be about all voices being heard and promoted, not activating people of like mind to vote in certain ways.

The bottom line is that someone that doesn't want any state intervention should be able to vote libertarian. Some one that is an environmentalist should be able to vote Green, a religious based political standpoint should have its own party. A socialist platform, an anarchist party, pick a political ideology and they should have an opportunity to cast their voice. We do not currently allow this. With two rounds of elections, people could vote for the issues and parties that they truly wanted in their hearts, and then for 'reality' in the second round.

Give us a multiparty system. It will allow for a greater understanding of the voices of the electorate. Now I know there are people that would be against it as their interests could suffer, parties could be splintered, and campaign funding be lost. There is also of course the concept of compromise and allegiances that would have to arise. But look at the system now, we simply have the choice between two dysfunctional and contradictory ideological and political machines. This is not democracy, it is a one or the other where both sides are so grossly influenced by special interests and me versus you, that there is no real dialog and no real time to think about what the people truly want.

Yes, it would be difficult to form alliances, but they would fall along present day lines for the most part. Republicans, religious parties and libertarians would form a coalition. Just as the Democrats, greens, and the working families party would. We'd get most of the same functionality, but with such a greater understanding of what it was that the actual electorate REALLY wanted, where their hearts really lay. What it was and who – if in a vacuum – the people would vote for, what issues they really cared about – not which compromise they felt more comfortable making. And this, compromising, should be left to the professional politicians – that's their jobs – not to the constituents and/or to democracy itself.


  1. The first objection to moving to a two tiered voting system will be the cost of the system: Twice as many actual elections to run and finance by local governments that are already over extended. No matter how good an idea it is (and I love it) - someone has to pay for it and the headlines are "No money to do anything!"

  2. Very good point, the work is cut out for us. I would say it is ultimately about supply and demand, if the public demands it, the money will be found. All the money spent on elections (and the whole process in general) is something that needs a much further look than this one thought, but I would love to see this find its way into that discussion - even if it just starts with the presidential election.

    Once this site gets up properly, we will have 'workshops' for people to work together on, and this issue will be one of the first to get it started. Thanks...


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