Lansing State Journal
Don't rehash term limits,
'Full Choice Voting' is way to empower voters, end
By John Gear
February 14, 2002
With Idaho abandoning term
limits, Michigan is poised to restart the term limits debate. Too
bad neither side addresses the concerns of the other. Thus we're
likely to hear the same arguments recycled, like an old couple
fighting again about who suggested camping during deer-fly season.
There's a better alternative. It's a way to address the concerns
that prompted term limits but also give voters all their ballot
options back. People seeking change must understand and respect the
reasons that voters chose term limits. If we don't, we can expect
our concerns to be ignored in return, leaving us mired in the same
old dead-end argument.
What mainly drives term limits is this: the
average incumbent in the average single-member district is more
likely to win the lottery grand prize than lose an election.
term limits, voters said they were fed up with this, especially in
state government. In many state capitols, turnover was lower than in
countries where only one party was even allowed to run candidates.
More significantly, voters gave up on the idea that the power of
incumbency could be trumped at the ballot box. Widespread incumbent
invulnerability persuaded even reluctant voters something had to
change. The problem is that term limits treat the symptom
(untouchable incumbents), not the disease (safe districts that only
elect one person, who is soon unbeatable).
This hurts because the
paradox of term limits is that they make politicians less
accountable, not more. As we saw with last year's scandalous pay
raise, legislators cut off from voters and re-election don't
magically become wise statesmen concerned only with the greater
There's a better way. Consider that the best way to fight
malaria is indirect, draining the swamps where mosquitoes breed. The
best way to fight imperial incumbency is indirect, eliminating the
single member districts that breed invulnerable incumbents.
Combine state house districts into sets of three, electing three
candidates each term. Add full-choice voting, which lets voters rank
the candidates 1, 2, 3, and so on. With full-choice voting, if a
voter's first choice isn't elected then, rather than being
discarded, their vote goes to their next choice. This means far
fewer wasted votes and much more democracy. Because it makes
incumbents face other incumbents and newcomers for re-election, this
will do more to solve the underlying problem than term limits has or
And it will open up the system in a way that term limits
have not because it gives outsiders a much better shot at winning
than in a one-on-one race against an entrenched incumbent.
Full-choice voting removes the penalty for voting for newcomers
because it lets voters know their votes will still count even if the
challengers don't win.
The benefits of term limits without reduced voter choices.
More representation for more voters. More opportunities for newcomers. A way to
ensure incumbents remain responsive to constituents. Full choice voting
gives us a way to build on and improve
term limits by empowering voters rather than limiting their choices. Let the debate
begin -- anew.
John Gear is a Lansing