on September 20, 2003
Why is it that America's form of democratic elections are lucky if they bring 60% of eligible voters to the polls (not to overlook the millions who don't bother to register to vote in the first place)? Why do we consider ourselves lucky if voters think they are participating in a democracy when 40% of all incumbents don't even have a challenger? In campaigns where two candidates offer a choice, only 20% of the extreme sides are really enthused about the two choices, while the 60% in between hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two they dislike. Then, in the winner takes all system, any candidate who wins by 50.1% wins the entire election, disenfranchising the 49.9% who voted for the candidate who didn't win. Whether the loser was close or a distant second, all who voted for her lose everything. Is this really a democracy if only a majority are represented, but the minority (more often a close second) are left empty handed? Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people believe they have a choice or that their vote really counts? Third parties, which rarely capture more than 20%, become "spoilers," not viable choices in our winner take all system. Ross Periot and Ralph Nader, candidates of recent memory who got less than twenty percent, caused the preferred candidate to lose to the worst of two evils, because voting for them was a "wasted" on a candidate who could not win. Doesn't this system seem absurd?
According to Amy and other political theorists, our archaic and arcane system is altogether the wrong way to go about elections. Instead of winner take all (and minority lose all), Amy and others are advocates of proportional representation. Briefly, this system allocates a slate of candidates who only win what they actually win; if they win 51.0% then they only get 60% of the seats available, and the other party gets 40% of the seats available. If third parties run candidates and amass 20% of the vote, they then get 20% of the seats available. In other words, every vote counts and everyone is represented. When government goes about its business, each candidate or party proportionately represents the vote it got in the prior election. Every vote counts, and even those candidates who lose by a hair still have substantial representation in the chambers of the legislative bodies. This system is not novel. Indeed it is the preferred system in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, with only the U.S. and Great Britain being holdouts for the archaic winner takes all vote.
Amy's scholarly, but easy-to-read, book is a goldmine and blue print of an alternative systems where every vote counts. Indeed, there are cities in the United States that already use proportional voting as the means of electing their candidates. And, Amy spends the better part of his book explaining the different means of achieving political enfranchisement used here and abroad through proportional representation. I cannot think of a more important book on the topic of electoral reform, what it entails, and what it provides in a critical, and indeed, essential manner. If I vote for a distant third party that only garners 10% of the vote, at least I'll know that my vote wasn't wasted and that I'll have one person who actually represents me in our democratic republic. Mutatis mutandis, if I vote for a candidate who only gets 42% of the vote, I won't be disenfranchised, but will have 40% representation. And likewise, if a candidate wins by more than 50%, I can take comfort that the majority will get the highest number of representatives without leaving the "losers" getting nothing. I strongly urge this urgent book upon all who are discontent with our winner take all system. It's coherent and concise presentation makes the reading easy, and its content makes its subject matter desperately needed.