By Gus diZerega
If the same legal standards
of monopoly were applied to the Republican and Democratic parties that were used
in the government's case against Microsoft, we would see the anti-trust suit of the
century. When the Supreme Court's ruling struck down California's open primaries,
they return us to a political reality that, in the private sphere, would have long
since led to antitrust action. California's two major parties have made it almost
impossible for voters to have other attractive electoral choices. In California and
many other states, there is an easy alternative open to us.
In elections today, the candidate receiving the most votes wins. This is true even if that person falls well short of a majority. This is called a plurality election as distinguished from a majority election, where the winner must gain a majority of votes cast.
The difference between plurality and majority elections seems small, but has big consequences. Its most important impact is that it makes realistic third party campaigns almost impossible. It also increases the power of big money and organized interests, which need dominate only two sets of primaries to obstruct popular views they oppose.
Today, many who would prefer a third party, be it Green, Libertarian, Reform, or another, do not vote for them. They rightly understand that since a majority is not needed to win, and since third parties almost never win, if I vote for a third party, my real impact is to help the major party candidate furthest from my position. Consequently, we often vote for major candidates we dislike because the alternative is having one we dislike even more winning office.
A simple change at the state level (mostly likely an initiative) would improve this situation. Simply require a winning candidate to receive a majority of the votes cast. If no candidate receives a majority, a run off takes place between the two who received the most votes. Nor need we be afraid of run-offs.
Run-off puts us back to choosing between two parties, but with a difference. Let us say that both the Democrat and the Republican receive 40% of the total vote. A third party receives most of the rest. In the run-off both Republican and Democratic candidates will have to explicitly address issues of importance to that third party, because they need votes from its supporters to win office.
When the day comes that a majority is required, if I vote for a third party I no longer throw away my vote, or help the candidate I dislike most. With the penalty for supporting third parties removed, more people will therefore vote for third parties, and their support will increase. Eventually the state legislature will have a variety of parties representing citizens. And we may actually have parties and candidates we can vote FOR.
Majority rather than plurality elections are not the only alternative to our dreary status quo. Proportional representation in multi-member districts and weighted voting proposals might be even better. But they are unfamiliar to most USA citizens. By contrast, the case for majority election makes immediate sense. Yes, we would have some run off elections -- but ONLY when a majority of voters are not enthusiastic about any candidate.
Dept. of Politics
Walla Walla, WA 99362