Returning to the US Elections

I’ll be honest: I never actually left the US Elections personally. I just refrained from covering any of the events of the last few whiles, to preserve sanity and time better spent. After all, everyone’s covering this, so why should I repeat it all and waste precious letters?

I think I’m entitled to spam a little on the Elections, though. At this moment, CNN have just declared Philadelphia an Obama win. Not by actual vote but by predictive models. Their current tally is 102 Obama Electoral College votes to 34 McCain. Meanwhile, the Senate seats are at 30 Red to 46 Blue. On NBC, they’re discussing just now whether Obama will be tempted as presumptive president to go democratic rather than playing the part of mediator and unifier for the parties, due to the majorities in the House and Senate.

Of course, to me it’s pretty clear. Obama will almost certainly win, and the Democrats will sweep the House and Senate. So meanwhile I’m thinking to myself how stupidly designed their whole voting system is.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately, not solely or even principally considering America in particular. I’ll say a little about them here though, seeing as they’re topical.

The Ways of Proportion

Until recently, I didn’t really understand “Proportional Representation”, the voting structure that we use over here in Europe (barring England). I thought that when you list your preferences, it sort of applied weighted votes, so that you gave a 1.0 vote to your first, a 0.5 vote to your second, a 0.25 to your third, etcetera. Instead, it seems that Proportional Representation applies your full vote to your choice of the final two possible candidates. In other words, if your first few choices have no chance of being president, then your full vote is applied instead to your next choices, until finally either your vote makes someone president or is applied to your last-choice-loser.

This is how it should be. Your vote should be fully counted always; there should be no such thing as a “Wasted Vote”. However, that’s just what happens every year in America, when many people (it seems around 2% in many states) vote for the throwaway radical candidates, people like Ron Paul and Ralph Nader. In America, you apply one vote, and it is applied simply and without a backup. If your candidate doesn’t approach the second-place candidate, then your vote is just lost and that’s it.

A lot is made of America’s two-party system, and how you have to often choose your lesser-of-two-evils because the other choices are impossibles. Were America to switch to Proportional Representation, then people could vote for their favourite candidate safely, regardless of his or her actual electability, because so long as they proceeded to give their “backup” choices for all the remaining candidates, they would guarantee that their vote was usefully counted in full. Suddenly, the minor candidates might have a much better chance at actually winning the race, offering more voter choice.

Knock-On

This would, I think, have a lot of knock-on effects. Among them, a breakdown of the two-party system, a reduction in the amount of drama, advertisement and overspending in Election campaigns, and a more complex political landscape in America that would lead to less of this Good/Evil mentality that divides their whole nation.

This is because at present, the two-party/two-candidate structure leads to such a battle between the two pillars of the parties that money, advertisement, attention, lies and retractions build up dramatically without any interrupts or upsets from outside. With even a third candidate, the amount of additional information that would need to be processed, spun and published to maintain this sort of intractable battle would be totally untenable. Rather than just accusing and defending, there would (I believe) be a much stronger impetus to make concrete promises or pose probing questions to gain an edge on not just one, anachronistic opponent, but two less clearly charicatured candidates.