In my previous blog entry, I talked about the problems created by having just two major political parties. Here I talk about what we can do to ameliorate these problems and I also explore some alternatives to the two-party system.
First, here are a few things we can do to improve the political situation even with two major political parties. These will take away some of the power they have that can burden the citizenry.
An important solution is to pass a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to vote on only balanced budgets. Also, spending increases (over and above that due to inflation and increased population), would also require a 2/3rds vote from both houses, as would tax increases. Thus, there would need to be a broad agreement to deficit spend, increase spending, or increase taxes; no political party would be able to offer a free lunch to increase the chances of it getting elected. It should have an escape clause that allows Congress to override this with a 2/3rds vote from both houses. (This would allow for deficit spending in an emergency such as a war, or severe natural disaster).
One other solution offers a way to lessen the impact that the two major political parties have by making it easier for third party (or independent candidates) to get elected. The current system is essentially rigged so that either a Republican or Democrat gets elected. This solution is to change our voting system to what is usually called an 'Instant Run-Off' voting system.
Briefly, it works just the way a normal run-off works, except that each voter only need vote once. Run-off elections occur when it is required that the winner get at least 50% of the vote. If more than two people are running, it's possible that no one gets over 50%, so the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and a new vote takes place. This continues until a candidate gets over 50% of the votes cast. In an Instant Run-Off voting system, each voter indicates their preferences by numbering the desirability of the candidates from 1 to N, where N is the number of candidates. So it's very easy for the voter to do, and with electronic voting, it would be even easier, with the computer asking for the voter's number 1 choice, then asking for their number 2 choice, etc. It can be shown that this voting system is equivalent to the usual run-off system. (For more details see the Wikipedia entry on the Instant Run-Off voting system).
Other than the time saving aspects of this, it also allows a voter to actually vote for the candidate they prefer, and not whom they think might win. Currently, when voting, if you'd prefer a particular candidate you think won't win, you may vote for a candidate that you think can win, so that you're not 'wasting' your vote. With an instant run-off system, you can vote the way you desire, and if your candidate gets eliminated, your next highest candidate replaces the eliminated one, so your vote would not be wasted. This would help to loosen the vice that the two major political parties have on us.
What we have now that complements the instant run-off voting system is that most jurisdictions allow a person to get on a ballot if he receives a certain number of signatures from voters in their jurisdiction. The number of signatures needed as well as any other requirements would be determined by law. Then all such candidates who qualify would be put on the ballot. The voter then ranks each candidate, and that's it.
Further, and this is a simple but important modification to the current system, the government ought to stop indicating the candidates' political party on the ballots. There is nothing in the federal or state constitutions that require this, and not putting a candidates' party next to their name would require more knowledge on a voter's part – and that is a very good thing. For instance, there would be no more straight ticket voting, since candidates would not be labeled by their political party.
Implementing these quite reasonable and eminently fair actions would go a long way toward reducing the need for and power of the current political parties. (Political parties could never be outlawed because this would violate the 1st Amendment).
Can we have a good government without two dominant political parties? We certainly cannot with just one dominant party. This is typically true in communist countries which frequently require everyone to belong to the Communist Party. So let's pass on that. What about lots of non-dominant political parties? Some countries have this, and it could result in better outcomes for the U.S., but it's hard to make a convincing argument that this would substantially improve our government.
How about having no political parties at all? Here we'd just vote for the person we think would do the best job (or rather we'd rank all of the candidates on the ballot). This, I think, would eliminate much of the divisiveness that we now have.
Eventually, we could make the transition into a pure democracy, where the voters would ultimately vote on every potential law, including budgets. Essentially, this would be the same as having only ballot initiatives, with no legislative body having the authority to pass laws or budgets without the consent of the voters. (Still, the voters could not pass a law that would violate the Federal or State Constitution; this would protect individual rights from being violated by the majority). In doing this, we would be voting for ideas and not for individuals.
I'm open for any ideas you might have about this, so please feel free to share them.
Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at email@example.com.