TURES COLUMN: We’ll get different candidates only when we change the voting rules

Published 1:28 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

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They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, they could say the same thing about a presidential nomination and election system. We have the same electoral rules and get virtually the same result: two candidates that few want.

French political scientist Maurice Duverger found that a country’s electoral rules tend to dictate its electoral outcomes. Countries that adopt a single-member district system (SMD), like the United States, United Kingdom, and other former British colonies, are far more likely to have two-party systems where anyone outside the top two has virtually no chance of winning. Countries that adopt a proportional representation system (PR), where one’s vote percentage equals one’s seat percentage, have multiparty systems and many more choices. The finding is so strong that it has even been labeled a scientific law.

America’s devotion to a single-member district system has even been applied to our presidential elections. That’s why the last candidate to truly win a single Electoral College vote (outside of some empty post-electoral symbolism) who wasn’t a Democratic or Republican Party candidate was George Wallace in 1968.

And we’ve exported the rules to our presidential nomination process. The parties, especially the Republican Party, have “winner take all systems” where finishing first gives the winner every state’s vote. It artificially inflated Donald Trump’s numbers in 2016, enabling him to claim he had won every vote in South Carolina, making people believe that he was more popular than he really was (Trump only won 32.51% of the South Carolina vote, but got 100% of the delegates). Better candidates dropped out. It’s why many of his rivals left the race so early in 2024, legitimately claiming they couldn’t see a realistic path to winning the nomination.

While Democrats don’t have nearly as many of these “winner-take-all” primaries, they have some other problems shared by the Republican Party. These include bundled primaries that are “Super Tuesday” contests which favor the front-runners and speed up the nomination process, instead of letting voters get a chance to evaluate the candidates.

Then we have the process whereby we have the same several states get an oversized role in the process. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have had a stranglehold on the process; they get to reject an overwhelming percentage of candidates before most Americans even get to see them, much less cast a vote for them. Every burg, hamlet, and diner in these three states has seen more presidential candidates than perhaps the other 47 states combined.

Now that President Joe Biden and ex-President Donald Trump have won their respective party nominations, we find a sizable portion of American voters shocked that we have the same nominees as four years ago. The belief is that more money, different candidates, a different message, or even different parties, would change things. But unless we have different rules, we’ll have more of the same type of candidates which aren’t among the top choices for most voters.

Most of these rules aren’t ones directly handed down by our Founding Fathers. They are inventions of parties. And in the case of the Electoral College, our Constitution does provide the ability to amend it, which we’ve done several times, to expand the voting franchise and fix the rules when they don’t work. Unless we decide to change the rules, don’t be surprised by what might happen in four years.