American presidential elections are plagued by four main issues:
- The first year or two of a president’s first term are spent building political power. And then right about the time that things are hitting their stride, the president has to start campaigning for reëlection, which kills that policy momentum.
- The Electoral College means that candidates can virtually ignore all but eight or nine states and still win the election. It is absurd that major population hubs like Chicago and New York and Los Angeles are ignored because the states they reside in are thought to be “locks” for one party or the other. Instead, candidates spend their time wooing New Hampshire citizens and a small group of Iowan corn farmers. The concept of a “swing state” creates bizarre campaign strategies that ignore huge swaths of American voters.
- The two-party lock forces candidates into one of two predefined buckets. And if there is essentially no difference between the parties (as there is on drug policy, foreign policy, and a bunch of other important issues), Americans effectively have no choice on these matters.
- The states all implement different voting standards. In some cases you can vote by mail. In other states, you can only vote by mail if you can prove you’ll be absent from the county on voting day. Some states have early voting, which allows people who work long hours to come vote on a weekend. Other states have no early voting. It’s a mess. It leads to long lines on election day, which leads inexorably to disenfranchisement.
Here are my solutions to these problems:
1. Change the presidency to a single six-year term
If the presidency were changed to be a single six-year term, there would be no incumbency advantage, no campaign to distract from governing, and presidents would have at least a solid four years to get some serious work done.
2. Switch to a national popular vote
The electoral college is a good idea in theory — preventing more populous states from steamrolling the smaller states. But the balance has swung too far the other way. Additionally, America has changed a lot since that system was implemented. We’re not as geographically polarized as we once were. The concerns of Californians are not that far off from those of Floridians. There is more variation within a state (county-to-county) than there is between the states. It’s time to switch to a national popular election for the presidency.
3. Implement instant runoff voting (voting preferences)
Instant runoff voting (or IRV) is the only realistic way to break (or at least challenge) the two-party lock. With IRV, you don’t cast just one vote for president: you list candidates in order of preference. For example, I might have voted “1: Johnson, 2: Obama”. Votes are counted by first running the numbers with everyone’s first preference. If there is no candidate with a majority (more than 50%), the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and everyone who voted for that candidate gets moved to their next choice. Then this process is repeated until there is one candidate with a majority. What is fantastic about this is that voting third-party no longer helps out a major party candidate you don’t agree with, because you can specify which major candidate you’d prefer in the case that your third-party candidate doesn’t win. No more Nader or Perot spoiler effect! Because there would be no more spoiler effect, people would be much more willing to support third party candidates. With sufficient levels of support, these candidates could not be ignored by the televised debates. Their viewpoints would be represented, and the major party candidates challenged on the issues that they ignore because both parties are in lockstep. We could have real, substantive debates instead of a bunch of superficial tweaking on taxes, spending, abortion, how much each candidate loves the military and supports a certain middle eastern religious conflict theme park.
4. Baseline standards for national elections
National elections should have national standards. Universal vote by mail (regardless of physical absence), early voting that includes at least one weekend, and perhaps some standards around the ratio of voting machines to registered voters in a precinct.
There. I just solved presidential elections. You’re welcome, America.