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The Logic of the Instant Runoff

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Reid Wilson, at the Washington Post, regales us with seven U.S. senatorial races where Libertarian Party candidates could swing elections, and thus control of the Senate. Last weekend at Townhall, I exhorted readers to work for transpartisan reforms “like term limits . . . and other measures aimed at greater representation, [such as] establishing ranked choice voting.”

The two articles are not unrelated.

Conservatives and libertarians are often united in wanting to replace progressive Democrats with small-government contenders. But they are not united in how to do this. Many libertarians balk at voting for hardline social conservative candidates like Rick Santorum and middle-of-the-road statists like John McCain.

So the Libertarian Party runs candidates that have in recent elections gained traction with voters — enough to pull independent voters away from Republicans and sometimes enabling Democrats to win.

Republican entreaties to libertarians (“you’re killing us out here!”) appear to be no more effective than libertarian entreaties to Republicans (“want our support? try taking your limited government stances seriously!”).

What to do? Republican partisans should support Instant Runoff Voting, which would

  1. Allow people to rank their choices for office, and
  2. Instruct vote-counters to take the votes of those who selected a No. 1 pick of, say, a Libertarian who garnered the smallest number of votes,  and add those ballots’ second ranked vote (either for a D or an R) as the vote to count in the “instant runoff.”

This would allow for better expression of voter preference, solving the “wasted vote” problem and ceasing to make the “best the enemy of the good.”

Alternately, Republicans could continue their course, trying to limit ballot access, thereby alienating more of the electorate and ensuring that Libertarian votes can’t also be Republican votes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Politicians Need Petition Experience

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the 49-year, 25-term congressman representing bankrupt Detroit, made big news. According to the Wayne County clerk, Conyers failed to gather enough voter signatures to earn a spot on the Democratic Party Primary ballot this Fifth of August.John Conyers

Still, I stand by my Townhall column’s prediction: the congressman will be on that ballot. Conyers ran afoul of a law requiring petition passers to be registered voters. It is unconstitutional. The ACLU filed suit on Monday to overturn it.

Conyers only had to manage a mere one thousand signatures, which hardly seems too tough for a seasoned incumbent. Conversely, Michiganders petitioning for a statewide ballot measure must secure 258,087 voter signatures — 322,609 for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.

Conyers isn’t alone in flunking Petition Drive 101. Two years ago, Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter resigned after several staff members falsified signatures on his petition.

Michigan’s policy, making major-party politicians gather a small number of voter signatures to obtain ballot status — independent and minor party candidates must often collect much larger numbers — is not a mere useless hurdle. If adopted universally, it could provide a large number of examples that our powerful politicians actually have surprisingly weak support.

Moreover, making politicians petition might stir their sympathy for the struggles citizens face in gathering signatures. Working my day job with Citizens in Charge, I witness constant attacks on the initiative petition process from legislators, who claim it’s “too easy” to put issues on the ballot.

Which, of course, means that those politicians haven’t ever tried.

Politicians often tell us how important “experience” is.

Give them some.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

King Kevin and Company

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Oh, how the other half lives!

And lies.

By “other half,” I don’t mean “the wealthy.” They’re as honest as any other group. No, I’m talking about those with their hands on the levers of government power . . . along with their subsidy-seeking cronies.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, an all-star in the National Basketball Association before becoming a politician, is splurging nearly $300 million tax dollars — roughly the city’s entire yearly budget — to build the owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings a brand new arena.

People objected, with 23,000 citizens signing petitions to put this lavish subsidy to a vote. Yesterday, a judge ruled that the measure would be kept off the ballot: errors in the wording of the petition “disqualified” it.

In a prepared sore-winner statement, Mayor Johnson called the petitioners “outsiders” who “have tried to undermine the right of Sacramento to control the destiny of our Kings, our downtown and our future.”

Johnson doesn’t mean the right “of the people” to control. He means his right to dictate for Sacramento even against the will of the majority.

The leader of one group working against a public vote on the arena giveaway attacked local businessman Chris Rufer, charging that “Rufer’s funding . . . is supporting STOP’s effort to steal 4,000 jobs, steal a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform downtown and makes him an accomplice in Seattle’s attempt to steal the Kings.”

Who’s stealing? Those spending their own money so people can vote? Or those blocking a vote so they can spend other people’s money?

“I’m against subsidy, period. It’s simply a moral argument,” Rufer explains. “If it was a subsidy for a fish pond, I’d be against it.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Too Sneaky by Half

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way to reform.

The freshly minted Republican-dominated Arksansas State Assumbly put up three constitutional amendments for next November’s ballot. Secretly, they are likely proudest of one of them, “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Act.” For, snuck into the amendment, is a gutting of term limits.

The voters long ago enacted six-year House limits, not the 16 years proposed now by legislators. The voters limit state senators to two four-year terms, while legislators are trying to double their ride on the gravy train.

A number of legislators now claim even they didn’t know the term limits provision was in the legislation. Others explain that their “aye” vote was cast mistakenly on their behalf after they had left the building.

But all that’s nothing compared to this wrinkle, which I wrote about on Townhall this weekend. Hidden in a separate piece of legislation passed last year was a strange provision dealing with setting ballot language for measures referred by the legislature. Legislators took the power to write a ballot measure’s “Popular Name” — the so-called short title — away from the Attorney General, who previously enjoyed that statutory role, and gave it to themselves.

However, after legally stripping any other elected official of that same power, the plotters neglected to do one teensy-weensy thing: provide that language for their new term extension.

The upshot? The sneaky, dishonest anti-term limits amendment may not appear on the ballot.

Hoisted on their own petard, the whole elaborate scheme threatens to blow up in their own dear faces.

Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Illustration by ocularinvasion used under a Creative Commons license.

NOT on Townhall: In Defense of “Spoilers”

Friday, December 13th, 2013

The place of minor parties — challenger parties — in American politics needs to be rethought.

Last weekend I wrote one of my regular columns for Townhall.com. I considered what the Libertarian Party challenge means to limited-government folks in the Republican Party. Unfortunately, while I was told they would be publishing that column, it has still not been. 

That’s a first. I’ve been writing a regular column, finalizing it every Saturday (minus one or two vacations) since late 2003. And even when I’ve criticized conservatives, the good folks at Townhall have been kind enough published my words. This time, well, maybe it’s a horrible column. You tell me. Click on over to the column at my archive on this Common Sense site, and then come back here and give me your opinion.

Now, I understand that this is a somewhat controversial issue.

Voting, after all, is a tricky business, with one’s choices very limited. Voting for the lesser of evils might (a) prevent an awful lot of extra evil, or (b) endorse, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, an outcome that guarantees (at least some degree of) malevolence.

Since I believe most of us when we cast our ballot are making the best choices we can to protect ourselves from an oppressive government, I’m not quick to find fault — either with those voting against the worst evil or those opting for the candidate best representing their principles, regardless of the chance to win.

But I do find fault in the attitude that says folks are foolish if they don’t vote for a candidate with whom they have major disagreements, your preferred candidate, instead of a candidate they enthusiastically endorse, because they should despise the other guy even more. If Republicans want Libertarian, or small-l libertarian votes, they’ll have to actually earn them.

“I get that libertarianism is not Republicanism,” writes Carrie Sheffield at Forbes. “But in a two-party, winner-take-all system (for better or worse, that’s just the reality), it begs the question why someone committed to a small-government philosophy would knowingly generate a big-government winner.”

But aren’t those who nominate a Republican candidate unable to win the libertarian votes needed to prevail in the election just as culpable in generating “a big-government winner” as the libertarians who decline to vote for that GOP candidate?

And certainly my suggestion, late in my column, shows a way around the problem. The problem, as it is right now, is that “the best” (the Libertarian Party? — yes, for some of us) serves as the enemy of the “good” (or at least “better than the Democrat”). By altering the manner in which we cast and count ballots — whether IRV or proportional representation, or something similar — the best will not work against the “good enough.”

It seems like an idea whose time has come.

This is especially droll since the mathematician who first spotted the problem, French philosopher Condorcet, did so before the drawing up of the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps its time for a revolution in our heads, or a new rethink of democracy. You know, to make it more, not less democratic; more, not less, republican.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

And these links provide some additional food for thought:

Mandela’s PR

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Few have known the political prestige and power held personally by Nelson Mandela, who passed away yesterday in his 96th year.

Mandela’s behavior as the first black president of a multi-racial South African electorate (1994–1999) reminds me of George Washington’s approach to power. Washington showed restraint in stepping down from his position after two terms, steering clear of any sort of pseudo-monarchy.

In terms of uniting a disparate population, Nelson had a much tougher task than George. Mandela met the task by promoting an election system called proportional representation — PR, for short.

During Apartheid, elections for the whites-only legislature had been winner take all. Mandela and the ANC knew (upon his release from 27 years of imprisonment) that with voting rights for the large black majority they would win big. Less than one percent of the country’s 700 districts contained white majorities.

So Mandela opted for a PR election system where even a tiny segment of the vote could gain representation in the National Assembly.

At GlobalAdvocacy.com, Andrew Reynolds emphasizes

the importance of South Africa’s choice of a List PR system for these first elections. Many observers claimed that a PR system, as an integral part of other power-sharing mechanisms in the new constitution, was crucial to creating the atmosphere of inclusiveness and reconciliation which has so far encouraged the decline of the worst political violence, and made post-apartheid South Africa a beacon of hope and stability to the rest of troubled Africa.

A group I work with, the Center for Voting and Democracy — or FairVote, for short — works on election reforms we in the USA could use to create greater participation and competition and, ultimately, better representation. In honor of Nelson Mandela, I’m going to make a contribution today.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Hobbling Challenger Parties

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Incumbents write the laws — sometimes to rig the game in their favor.

Everybody knows about the conflict-of-interest iniquities of gerrymandering; increasing numbers of people are learning that “campaign finance reform” also increases incumbent advantages.

But one of the most obvious ways incumbents can limit challengers is to limit challenger parties. That’s on the agenda of the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature. The Senate just passed SB 193, a bill that rewrites the rules for “minor parties.” The House now considers.

Ohio’s law governing minor parties does need re-tooling, arguably, having been struck down as unconstitutional . . . way back in 2006. The Green Party and Libertarian Party were qualified parties then and, with legislators busy causing trouble elsewhere, they have remained on the ballot since.

“Obviously, if you are in one of those minor parties,” Republican Senator Bill Seitz said, “you probably would like that current, lawless state of affairs to continue because you get to stay on the ballot without demonstrating any modicum of support.”

Probably. Most folks do like to have the candidates they want to vote for listed right there on the official ballot. Why shouldn’t they?

Last election for governor, four percent of the people voted for the Green (1.5) and Libertarian (2.4) candidates.

I say, “Protect the Four Percent!”

As far as modicums go, how about a modicum of justice?

The ACLU testified that the new rules are onerous, draconian. Even worse, throwing people off the ballot at this stage in an election cycle and requiring 56,000 petition signatures to get back on is not fair or right or legal — a violation of due process.

Are Republicans really so afraid of an alternative to Governor Kasich next year?

I can’t imagine why.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.