Indy Bay (CA)
Democrats succeeded in getting Greens and Independents
to vote for John Kerry, but will we be asked to do the same thing
four years from now?
Although Democrats didn’t elect John Kerry on November 2, they did
get something they wanted badly. They convinced Greens,
Independents, and progressive Democrats to support a candidate who
did not represent their beliefs about issues like the war in Iraq,
the Patriot Act, and the WTO. The Democratic Party successfully
scared voters with the specter of another “spoiled” outcome like
Hundreds of thousands of Americans were disenfranchised by
abandoning candidates who truly represented their values in exchange
for John Kerry. Only “anybody but Bush” did not even win in the
end, and progressives are left wondering if our votes could have
been better cast. And if we will be asked to repeat the same futile
exercise in four years.
The Democratic Party’s strategy is apparently to hope it will be
able to talk progressives out of voting for their chosen candidates
every election cycle. This is hardly a democratic—or
practical—solution. But since Ralph Nader didn’t cost them the
election this time around, their “solution” appears to have
worked out just fine. And, unfortunately, very little post-election
punditry has focused on the need for more democratic elections.
But are Democrats—who went to great lengths to silence third party
candidates this year—willing to reform elections so we don’t
face the same quandary four years from now?
Sadly, I predict they won’t. Democrats will likely ignore the
necessity of updating the antiquated two-party system because they
don’t perceive it to be in the Party’s long-term interest to do
so. Although Democrats are quick to invoke Nader’s role in 2000,
they fail to mention how Ross Perot’s campaign in 1992 allowed
Bill Clinton—who ended up with just 43% of the vote—to ascend to
the Presidency. The Democratic Party understands how the existing
system, although not always kind to its candidates, does in fact
reward it with power roughly half of the time.
Why should they bother with election reform that might actually
allow a multi-party system to emerge? Why help the Green Party?
Isn’t it better for Democrats to simply accept the results this
year and look forward to a future in which power is shared with only
one other party?
So what are progressive voters to do? For starters, we should pledge
that we are not going to delay our efforts to build a more humane
society. We will vote for the candidate we truly want to win, the
one who represents our beliefs. The tired pleas for us to abandon
our candidate are not going to be heard next time. We must
communicate this now, so Democrats are on notice that they have only
four years to fix elections or suffer future defeats—regardless of
how “evil” the Republican candidate.
We need only look to San Francisco for an example of a simple and
practical electoral reform. On November 2, San Francisco
successfully implemented a voting system called “instant run-off
voting” (or IRV) for electing its local County Supervisors.
Voters, in one trip to the ballot box, were able to rank their top
three choices, allowing a runoff to be conducted immediately if no
candidate received over 50% of the vote in the first round of
The use of IRV nullifies the “spoiler” argument used by the
Democratic Party. It ensures that the winner of an election will
have a mandate with a majority of the votes cast, not just a
plurality victory as the current system permits. In addition, it
allows for the inclusion of voices not counted in traditional
run-off elections, as run-offs are generally plagued by a dramatic
drop in voter turnout.
So why can’t we have IRV, or at the very least, traditional
two-candidate run-offs, in Presidential elections? If this method of
voting had been used in Florida in 2000, Nader’s supporters could
have selected Al Gore as their second choice, guaranteeing that
their votes would not be wasted and eliminating the pressure to vote
for a candidate who was not their favorite.
Last month, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) introduced IRV legislation
in the United States Congress. House Resolution 5293 mandates that
states implement IRV by 2008 in elections of all Federal officials.
The only problem is that it’s not the first time he’s introduced
such a measure. In the past he hasn’t been able to convince enough
of his Democratic colleagues to join him. Will it be different this
Now more than ever, progressives must pledge not to bail out the
Democrats next time around. Certainly not if they’ve failed to
work toward electoral reform. To do otherwise is to get caught up in
an endless cycle that props up a rotten and undemocratic system of
voting in order to avert short term evils – all the while
guaranteeing long term ones.