Non-representative Democracy

Not that I am particularly proud of where I am from, because I feel like that is a mostly a silly thing to be proud of, but given recent news around the congressmen in the district where I live, Steve King, I am somewhat tempted to be ashamed to be from Iowa, but I am not. Yes, the congressmen in the district where I live is a notorious racist, and has been for a long time, and continues to be re-elected. And yes, Iowa’s electoral votes ALL went to a surprisingly similar political figure, Trump,  However, living here the vast majority of my life, I can say with some confidence that though racism is a problem here (as it is most places in the US), these racist representatives do NOT represent the majority of the population that I have ever encountered here.

The problem is the electoral systems we have in place – not the electorate.

Under our current voting system, it is very easy for a polarizing candidate who has strong support from a minority of the population (but little support outside that minority) to get a plurality [different than majority] of votes in a party primary, then a plurality of votes in the general and thus win the election. In short, this system is a great recipe for electing someone like Steve King … or Trump.

*Trump didn’t even get a plurality but a minority – the electoral collage system is also a broke one*

• In majority, one candidate gets more than half of the votes.
• In plurality, the winner is the candidate with the highest number of votes, though they still may have got less than half the number of votes.

People know this (at least to some degree) which gives rise to a highly toxic phenomenon: strategic voting. Instead of voting for the candidate they approve of, people often vote against the greater-of-two-evils. When voters are casting their ballots not based on who they like, but based on how they think everyone else will vote I find it ridiculous to believe that the eventual winner deserves to be called a representative.

The best fix I can see is not better educated voters, or more turnout. Neither of which would hurt, obviously, but nor can they overcome the inherent flaws of the election systems in place. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) or other similar systems, however, by offering more choices and achieving a majority rather than a plurality will tend towards representatives who more accurately represent the population.

The whole point of RCV is to maximize the number of voters who get an official they voted FOR – not necessarily their first choice, but at least one of their choices. In offering more choices, but not throwing your vote in the trash if it turned out to be for a non-viable candidate it largely eliminates spoiler candidates and voting-against strategies, and thus the resulting winner should be much more deserving of the title of Representative.

But wait, King got re-elected multiple times! Even recently after many many racist comments. Are you sure it’s not the voters? I still think it is the system. It’s mostly a guess on my part, but I think a good proportion of votes cast for King were votes against the democrat who was chosen by the standard primary voting system, and even then it was close enough that if the third party votes had have fallen back to a second choice as in RCV then the democrat may very well have won. On the other hand, imagine if, because of RCV, other candidates would have been encouraged to run without the fear of being ‘spoilers’. It’s hard to say if it would have been a landslide loss for King, and maybe it is just hopeful thinking, but I suspect that would have been the case.

King was the incumbent though, and they have an advantage for many reasons. Term limits are an oft touted solution to the problem of the current election systems favoring incumbents, but it seems RCV would possibly address the incumbent advantage problem in a different way, without the downside of removing candidates who have valuable experience and actually represent the majority of their constituents.


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