United States should take into consideration preferential balloting, proportional representation over unfair first-past-the-post setup

6 months ago
Ian Seamans

If you’re reading this, then you probably won’t vote this November.

According to the United States Census Bureau, only 38 percent of college age citizens voted in the 2012 election. That’s lower than any other group. George Mason University studied voter turnout in Texas and found only 49.7 percent of Texans voted in the 2012 presidential election, which is 8.5 percentage points lower than the national average.

A dominant reason why we are in this situation is not because of apathy, millennials or lack of information, but because of our unfair voting system.

In the United States, we use a straightforward voting system called first-past-the -post voting. In a FPTP system, the voter marks down which candidate they want for president and then drop their ballot in the box. The candidate that gets the largest number of votes wins.

Proponents of FPTP argue the system’s simplicity is what makes it the best. During the U.K.’s 2011 voting system referendum, former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron argued for First Past the Post on the principles that it is fair, simple, traditional and ensures each person gets one vote.

I disagree with Cameron. First-past-the-post isn’t fair, it’s not much more simplistic than other systems, and there are other voting systems that allocate votes equally. One of the largest problems with FPTP is that it eliminates voter choice. It does this by slowly consolidating government down to just two main parties.

You might say that people should just vote third party if they aren’t happy with the options, but a problem emerges if you do this. If people vote for a third party, they often siphon votes away from one of the two main parties. When this happens, the citizen that voted third party loses twice. The third party candidate they vote for loses and they take away votes from the main candidate that they agree with most. Unless the electoral system is changed, all third party voters do is give the election to the main candidate they like the least.

In order to prevent the candidate one likes the least from winning, people end up voting strategically. Strategic voting means voting against a candidate by voting for another candidate who isn’t necessarily one’s most sincere preference. The Pew Research Center published a survey on Sept. 2 that showed 53 percent of Donald Trump’s supporters are voting against Hillary Clinton and 46 percent of Clinton’s supporters will vote against Trump. A majority of Trump voters are voting for him just because they do not want Clinton as president.

Strategic voting discourages compromise candidates and makes people vote for the individual they believe has the best chance, not the one that will best represent them. Strategic voting is an evil that is inherent in a FPTP system.

The solution is to abandon FPTP in favor of a better, more representative system. There are a myriad of options, but I believe that the best path would be the one that Canada is taking.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he plans for this fall’s Canadian elections to be the last under FPTP. His liberal government has announced a 32-point plan citing ways to make Canadian democracy (which is very similar to the United States) better.

The two options Canadians are weighing currently are preferential balloting and proportional representation. With preferential ballots voters rank their candidates and if no candidate receives a majority in the first round, the last place candidate and their voter’s second choices are counted. This process continues until there’s a clear winner.

Proportional representation allots multiple seats to each constituency and divides those seats among candidates and political parties based off of the number of votes each receives. Both systems discourage strategic voting and proportional representation specifically prevents gerrymandering and minority rule and allows political diversity.

Even though we currently live in an FPTP system, I urge you to vote. Participation in elections is the only way to get better representation under the current system or by changing the system. If you want better representation in government in the future then you should take advantage of your ability to vote now.