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Return Government to Being of the People For the People

Michael Challis

English 138H

Section 3

April 11th 2020


Abstract

The political climate in America is a much discussed topic. In this brief the issue of America's

relationship to government will be explored. Firstly the widespread disapproval of American

government by the American people is established. Upon the back of this fact the question of

how people have managed to become so disconnected with the very government they vote on is

questioned. Looking at hypothetical voting scenarios the premise that the “first past the post”

system is fundamentally flawed is established. Upon establishing this there are then three

proposals that are considered. Firstly, a parliamentary system. Which is thought of to solve some

but not all of the problems presented in the sections preceding it. Then “direct democracy” is

analyzed from the same perspective. This too is thought to not solve all of the issues presented in

the preceding paragraphs. Finally, ranked choice voting is introduced and analyzed. The brief

culminates in the conclusion that ranked choice voting helps to heal many of the ills established

in the opening of the essay.

1
AMERICAS DISTRUST OF GOVERNMENT: A GROWING PROBLEM

Americans’ trust in government has been steadily declining for the past two decades1.

More than half of the country disapproves of Congress2. Yet more than 90% of the time

congressional

incumbents win

re-election3. How has the

reality of American’s

views become so

perverted from the

actuality of our

representation? People

from both sides of the

aisle bemoan their

political opponents. But,

even within a party, there are harsh partisan divides4. The problem that Americans have with

1
“Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019.” Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy, 4
Jan. 2020, www.people-press.org/2019/04/11/public-trust-in-government-1958-2019/.
2
“Congressional Job Approval.” RealClearPolitics,
www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/congressional_job_approval-903.html.
3
“Reelection Rates Over the Years.” OpenSecrets.org,
www.opensecrets.org/overview/reelect.php.
4
Thompson, Derek. “The Democratic Party of 2020 Is Broken.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media
Company, 14 Feb. 2020,
www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/democratic-party-2020-broken/606547/.

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their government goes further than just political parties. Somewhere along the line, the general

populous will have become detached from the voting process. This problem extends well

beyond, the often lamented, Electoral College. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump were

viewed by a majority as favorable5 before the election in 2016. How did neither major political

party manage to nominate a candidate who more than half the country liked? This has happened

due to a failure of the very system of voting in the United States. The solution to the fundamental

problem with how we vote is ranked-choice voting. If the United States wishes to mend the

divide between its people and its government then it must implement a system of ranked-choice

voting. But before analysis of ranked choice voting (RCV) can begin, the nature of politics as a

whole must first be analyzed.

In the United States, there are two major political parties who, for all intents and

purposes, win every major national election (Senate, House and, Presidential) so for someone to

win a national seat they must win at least around half of the votes in an election. So in theory, if

someone is to win a seat in the House, Senate, or Oval Office they should be approved of by at

least half of the people they represent. By extension, the government as a whole should have at

least a slight majority of its people approve of it. In reality, this does not happen. Less of half of

the United States trust their government6. The very same government that they voted to put into

office. It seems intuitive that if voting were working as it should be then the American public

could simply vote all of the people they do not trust out of office and the problem would

5
“Election 2016 Favorability Ratings.” RealClearPolitics,
www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president/clintontrumpfavorability.html.
6
McCarthy, Niall. “The Countries That Trust Their Government Most And Least [Infographic].”
Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Jan. 2018,
www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/01/22/the-countries-that-trust-their-government-most-
and-least-infographic/#4a703d10777a.

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disappear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and

not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators

and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”7 America's most

frequently elected president is speaking about how government is not meant to be ruled by

politicians, but to be ruled by the people. However, by looking at the aforementioned

congressional approval/re-election percentages it can be seen that this does not happen.

If the people are unable to exert their will upon the government then there must be a

problem. Where this problem lies is the question. People may argue that it is the rampant

partisanship of today's politics that is the problem8. Others may say that it is the unregulated

money that has been allowed to seep into our political system which has caused this great divide

between people and their government9. Both of these facts may be true, but they are merely side

effects of a much larger problem. The way that Americans conceive of voting is in and of itself

flawed.

7
Roosevelt, Franklin D. 8 July 1938, Marietta.
8
Abeshouse, Bob. “The Disunited States: How Partisan Politics Is Polarising the US.” USA | Al
Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 2 Aug. 2019,
www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/disunited-states-partisan-politics-polarising-190801094457
547.html.
9
Hamilton, Lee. “Hamilton: How Money Is Ruining Politics.” Detroit News, DetroitNews, 6
May 2015,
www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2015/05/06/hamilton-money-ruining-politics/26939383/.

4
A HYPOTHETICAL DEMONSTRATION OF THE INNATE FLAW WITHIN

VOTING

Idealized situation

Imagine a hypothetical election between four people. We will call these four people

person A, person B, person C, and person D. Lets say that of the four candidates persons A, B

and C agree on 95% of their policies. Conversely person D shares almost no similar policies with

their three competitors. Of the general population 59% of voters agree with the policies of

candidates A, B and, C. Since A, B, and C are relatively indistinguishable in terms of their

respective platforms then it can be envisioned that they split the 59% of people that agree with

them evenly. Leaving each candidate with about a 19% share of the general voting populus.

Since neither A, B, or, C are able to acquire 41% of the vote they will lose to candidate D in the

election. Somehow a candidate with whom 59% of the population disagrees is able to win the

election.

Real world problems: the reason for political parties

The aforementioned hypothetical is flawed for many reasons. First and foremost it

simplifies a very complicated situation. However, it was not meant to illuminate the overall

structure of elections. It was just meant to be used as an illustration to show how similar

candidates are able to split the vote and give away the election to a majority unliked candidate.

This is a quite obvious flaw innate within an election, and is supposed to be remedied by having

political parties. The idea is that candidates A, B, and C would all be part of the same party so

the winner of their parties election would be backed by all three candidates' supporters and be

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able to easily win the general election. This is the point where in the abstract the problem is

satiated but the reality of the problem still looms large.

Third party spoilers

There are a plethora of real world reasons why the party system has failed to solve the

problem that it was meant to fix. First of all there is the problem of third party candidates.

Imagine the same thought experiment with the same four candidates. Except now after the

primary candidate A wins and candidate B decides that they would do a better job for the country

so they run as a third party. Now, canadtie A and B split the vote and both receive about 29.5%

of the vote each. Still losing to the least favored candidate D. The current system in America

allows one person to run as a third party and completely change the course of the election.

Why political parties do not fix the problem

Third party candidates are not the only problem. Another problem arises when you look

at the reality of elections. Candidates do not simply have either opposing or allied views. Instead

policy lies on a continuum. To differentiate between two candidates is harder than just

dichotomising into two parties. Instead, to truly understand the breadth of viewpoints that can be

held on an issue many parties are needed. With many parties the exact same problem arises as in

the first thought experiment. People with overlapping political bases can steal voters from each

other and give the election to an unliked candidate. This problem becomes even more real when

political ideology is thought of as a normally distributed bell curve. The candidates who agree

more will overlap near the center allowing far left or right candidates to swoop in and win the

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overall election. Having multiple parties causes the same problems as having no parties. What

then, is the answer to the innate flaw within the election process?

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO AMERICA’S DISTRUST WITH THE

GOVERNMENT?

Parliamentary system

One solution that some nations use is a parliamentary system. In this system to win each

seat there is an election, then the leader of government is chosen by a vote of all of the elected

officials. A parliamentary system does allow people who are not part of a “major” party more

success in an election, but to run a wide spread campaign and win enough seats to be able to hold

the position as the leader of government still requires party affiliation. The parliamentary system

also does not address the two largest problems with voting. It still faces the problem of

candidates with overlapping views stealing votes from each other.

Direct Democracy

Another system of government is direct democracy. In this system people vote directly

on government proposals. This system has many issues with it. Most problems do not have

binary solutions. For example, taxes. Taxes are very complex, almost everyone agrees that

people should get taxed, but there is seemingly endless debate over who should bear the brunt of

the tax burden, what rate people should be taxed at, what things should be exempt from taxes,

etcetera. You can not make those decisions by a simple yes no vote, those problems must be

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adjudicated through deliberation. So even in a direct democracy representatives are needed and

how representatives are elected remains an important issue.

How ranked choice voting fixes the problem

The solution is ranked choice voting (RCV). “The essence of RVC is that voters are

allowed to rank candidates in order of preference rather than vote for just one person. If the

first-choice candidate of voters does not get enough votes to win the election, then second and

third choices of that voter will be counted toward determining who wins.”10 The beauty of this

system is two fold. It does away with the need for parties,

which will allow for less partisanship. By taking away the

names behind which people rally you diffuse some of the

tension that currently exists between Democrats and

Republicans. Without the need for parties many other ills

of the political system will seem to vanish overnight. No

longer will politicians feel beholden to their party when

participating in a vote. The current Vice President Mike

Pence once said in a speech “I'm a Christian, a

conservative, and a Republican, in that order”11 By taking away the “Republican” title the

identification as “American” necessarily moves up the list (assuming that at some point on his

hierarchy of self identification he thinks of himself as an American). Putting the interests of the

10
Anest, Jim. “Ranked Choice Voting.” Integral Theory and Practice, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 25–25.
11
Garcia, Catherine. “Mike Pence: 'I'm a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican - in That
Order'.” The Week - All You Need to Know about Everything That Matters, The Week, 21 July
2016,
theweek.com/speedreads/637487/mike-pence-im-christian-conservative-republican--that-order.

8
people he represents closer to the top of the list. By doing away with party affiliation it makes

gerrymandering much harder too. Gerrymandering, according to the encyclopedia Britannica “is

the drawing of the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one party an unfair

advantage over its rivals.12” So by removing party affiliation from politics, by definition,

gerrymandering becomes impossible.

All of the above mentioned advantages do not even begin to include the most important

factor of RCV. The will of the people will be heard. Think back to the two thought experiments

that were performed earlier in this brief. With RCV candidate D would not have a path to victory.

The minor difference between candidates A, B and C would be adjudicated and everyone's voice

would be heard. Having RCV would also facilitate collaboration. No longer would candidates

seek to destroy one another. Instead they would try and find middle ground between one another

because they would be seeking to garner favor with everyone, not just the people who are

considered their usual voting block.

CRITIQUES

As with any idea there are of course many critiques. One criticism is that this voting

method is unnecessarily complicated. This idea, although not completely meritless, is very

overblown. Firstly, the way that the votes are tallied may be somewhat more confusing.

However, a voter does not necessarily need to know precisely how the voting will work, they just

have to be able to put the candidates in order of preference, meaning they would merely have to

know their own preferences to be able to vote. Another criticism along the same lines is the idea

Rafferty, John P. “What Is Gerrymandering?” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia


12

Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/story/what-is-gerrymandering.

9
that it is unreasonable to expect people to know enough to be able to rank every candidate. This

“problem” illuminates two key points about RCV. RCV will require people to have much better

knowledge of the candidates to be able to participate in voting. This means that (hopefully) the

population will be more informed, and that people will be forced to engage more with the

political process. One major complaint that is lodged against RCV is that it does not yield a

“favorite” candidate, only a least hated one. To some degree this may be true. It is conceivable

that with RCV a candidate with a large swath of rabid supporters may lose to a candidate who is

not loved by everyone yet liked by all. However, this is not axiomatically a bad thing. The

alternative is a winner who has a very vocal minority of the population but not all around

support.

The last and largest complaint is that RCV will lead to the rise of centrists. If the final

winner is the person who the most people approve of then it will probably be someone who lies

in the middle of the political spectrum. This is entirely possible. It is conceivable that RCV

would not allow people who are on the far left or right of the political spectrum to win. There are

two strong rebuttals to this argument. First of all there is the fact that this argument is basically

saying “But wait! If we implement this system then the people on fringes who less people agree

with won’t win.” Why is the concern keeping the status quo where every presidential election

there are large swings in policy. Would it not make more sense for a government that represents

the people to move slowly and represent the shifting views of the populus rather than whip back

and forth based on voter turnout of two warring factions? The other point about this argument is

that having RCV would actually allow people who are on the fringes to garner votes without

taking away from people who have a better chance of winning. That is to say that people would

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be able to vote their conscience rather than enter into a Keynesian Beauty contest of an election13

IMPLEMENTATION AND LONG TERM BENEFITS

There are many problems with the United States political system. One should be wary if

they are pitched a magical panacea to all of their problems. It should be clear that RCV is not

claimed to be a panacea. With RCV many more problems will surely arise, and as they arise they

will need to be handled. This is not a plea to implement RCV and then assume politics is, and

will forever be fixed. RCV is but a small piece to a very big puzzle. It is a puzzle piece that has

already been implemented in some areas of the United States. Maine has implemented RCV for

all of its state elections. It was a long arduous journey from the first time the ballot initiative was

proposed in 2001 to the time in 2016 when the state officially adopted the new voting method.

There were both legal and political opposition to the proposal14. Maine gives a blueprint for other

states, as well as the nation as a whole. It shows that this form of voting can in fact be

implemented in the United States if enough people want it. RCV will help heal the partisan

divide created by the need for parties, it will increase government approval and trust ratings, and

it will require that civility return to political discourse. The American public deserves to decide

for itself whether it wants this style of voting.

13
Arbesman, Samuel. “Keynesian Beauty Contests and Presidential Primaries.” Wired, Conde
Nast, 3 June 2017,
www.wired.com/2012/02/keynesian-beauty-contests-and-presidential-primaries/.
14
Design and Development by Firefly, LLC | www.firefly.us. “Ranked Choice Voting in Maine.”
Maine State Legislature, 24 Jan. 2020,
legislature.maine.gov/lawlibrary/ranked-choice-voting-in-maine/9509.

11
Works Cited

Abeshouse, Bob. “The Disunited States: How Partisan Politics Is Polarising the US.” USA | Al

Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 2 Aug. 2019,

www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/disunited-states-partisan-politics-polarising-1908010

94457547.html.

Anest, Jim. “Ranked Choice Voting.” Integral Theory and Practice, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 25–25.

“Approval Rating Infographics.” Approval Rating Infographics | Visual.ly,

visual.ly/tag/approval-rating.

Arbesman, Samuel. “Keynesian Beauty Contests and Presidential Primaries.” Wired, Conde

Nast, 3 June 2017,

www.wired.com/2012/02/keynesian-beauty-contests-and-presidential-primaries/.

Design and Development by Firefly, LLC | www.firefly.us. “Ranked Choice Voting in

Maine.” Maine State Legislature, 24 Jan. 2020,

legislature.maine.gov/lawlibrary/ranked-choice-voting-in-maine/9509.

“Election 2016 Favorability Ratings.” RealClearPolitics,

www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president/clintontrumpfavorability.html.

Garcia, Catherine. “Mike Pence: 'I'm a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican - in That

Order'.” The Week - All You Need to Know about Everything That Matters, The Week, 21

July 2016,

12
theweek.com/speedreads/637487/mike-pence-im-christian-conservative-republican--that-o

rder.

Hamilton, Lee. “Hamilton: How Money Is Ruining Politics.” Detroit News, DetroitNews, 6

May 2015,

www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2015/05/06/hamilton-money-ruining-politics/269393

83/.

McCarthy, Justin. “No Improvement in Congress Approval, at 13%.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 6

Jan. 2020, news.gallup.com/poll/189848/no-improvement-congress-approval.aspx.

McCarthy, Niall. “The Countries That Trust Their Government Most And Least

[Infographic].” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Jan. 2018,

www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/01/22/the-countries-that-trust-their-government

-most-and-least-infographic/#4a703d10777a.

“Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019.” Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy, 4

Jan. 2020, www.people-press.org/2019/04/11/public-trust-in-government-1958-2019/.

Rafferty, John P. “What Is Gerrymandering?” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia

Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/story/what-is-gerrymandering.

“Reelection Rates Over the Years.” OpenSecrets.org,

www.opensecrets.org/overview/reelect.php.

13
Roosevelt, Franklin D. 8 July 1938, Marietta.

Russell, Eric, and Portland Press Herald. “Here's What You Need to Know about

Ranked-Choice Voting on Election Day.” Lewiston Sun Journal, 25 Oct. 2018,

www.sunjournal.com/2018/10/24/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-ranked-choice-voti

ng-on-election-day/.

Thompson, Derek. “The Democratic Party of 2020 Is Broken.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media

Company, 14 Feb. 2020,

www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/democratic-party-2020-broken/606547/.

14