Friday, July 25, 2014

Schumer’s wrong – but close

US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) set off a mini-firestorm early this week when he suggested a “Top-Two” primary system. I read many of those responses. Still, he was close.

A “Top-Two” primary is one in which Republican and Democratic candidates run in the same primary with the top two contenders facing a run-off in November. Schumer has some peculiar ideas about the merits of such a wacky system, especially that it will magically reduce “polarisation”. He’s wrong.

A growing body of evidence shows that voters who vote in partisan primaries are not more extreme than party voters generally. Self-described independents, who tend to me more centrist overall, are able to vote in partisan primaries in most states, contrary to what Schumer thinks; the issue is more about why they may not want to.

Schumer, who is strongly aligned to corporate interests (so much so that he’s often called “the Senator for Wall Street”), is proposing a system that actually helps corporate-aligned candidates by helping to shut out populist candidates. This makes the “Top-Two” system less democratic by narrowing choice as well as making it much harder for candidates who are aligned with ordinary people, not big corporations, to get elected.

Schumer asserts that his system “would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.” That’s nonsense: His system doesn’t and can’t dictate an ideological litmus test to ensure that there would be ANY candidates from “the broad middle”. And, anyway, what’s so inherently virtuous about being in the middle? I’d prefer a principled left or right politician (who will comprise when needed—a critical caveat) to a wishy-washy “centrist” who sticks a finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. But, if the choice is between such a “centrist” and an intransigent ideologue (always the case with the hard right), then I suppose I could live with the candidate of the bland middle.

If Schumer is serious about reform, then he should back real, substantive electoral change: He should back the Alternative Vote (also known as “Instant Run-off Voting”, and it was called “Preferential Voting” when it was considered as a possible replacement for MMP in New Zealand back in 2011).

The Alternative Vote ensures that whoever is elected has majority support (which Schumer mistakenly thinks is a benefit of his “Top-Two” system). It also eliminates wasted votes and the spoiler effect, both of which are present in Schumer's wacky system. Alternative Vote also helps reduce extremism among candidates, which Schumer says is one of his goals. Seems to me, Alternative Vote meets Schumer’s criteria perfectly, without diminishing democracy (the exact opposite, if anything).

When I talked about Alternative Vote back during New Zealand’s 2011 Election Referendum campaign, I said:
“If the US were to switch to [Alternative Vote], it’s probable that over time small party candidates could be elected, and it’s also likely that even candidates of the two main parties would be more representative and would pander less to their party base (this is especially true for Republicans).”
I also said that since the US can never switch to a more democratic proportional system, then the Alternative Vote is a good alternative. It makes the final result fairer, ensures the winner has majority support and is inherently more democratic than the system in use in most places or the “Top-Two” scam that Schumer supports.

So, like I said: If Chuck Schumer is serious about backing reform, he should back the Alternative Vote.

The video below explains Alternative Vote in more detail.


rogerogreen said...

And still, I'll probably keep voting for him because the usual alternative is SO unsavory.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

That's true for a lot of voters, and the reality is that if the USA were to adopt AV/IRV, those situations would likely start to diminish. Maybe that's why folks like Schumer can't support AV/IRV.

Jason Peaco said...

I have to say I don't exactly see how this would work in the US. The vast majority of people would still vote for one of the major parties. How would small parties grow to matter in the process? Also in the examples they had all of one party's voters ended up supporting the same candidate as their second choice. I don't see how this would happen in an actual election.

For right now, the best way to have more competitive races and have candidates that aren't — how would one put it — bat shit crazy, is to have more people participate in the process. If you only have 30% showing up for a primary election or for that matter an off year general election, you are going to continue to have these flat earth people elected.

rogerogreen said...

Rob Astorino is the Republican

Jason Peaco said...

I see your point. The old "you're just wasting your vote line" won't hold that much water under this system. It also might just make the main stream candidate try (and I do mean just might) try and broaden their appeal a little.

It's a nice concept but I just don't see it happening here.

rogerogreen said...

Jason - well, it HAS happened in some parts of the US - http://www.fairvote.org/reforms/instant-runoff-voting/where-instant-runoff-is-used/ with some success.

rogerogreen said...

Also, our way of elections do one of two things: elect minority candidates in a three person race (see Gore/Bush/Nader), or require expensive runoff elections. See the MS GOP US Senate primary this year: http://www.rogerogreen.com/2014/06/28/the-mississippi-us-senate-runoff-a-poster-child-for-instant-runoff-voting/