Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unified Theory of Voting Reform

Quit your political party.

I'm not alone in my current frustration with politics. Despite my fence-sitting on the concept of, "the best thing that can happen to the government is for it to unable to do anything," I watched with utter disbelief at the latest show of congressional ridiculousness over the past two months while they tried to get a fiscal cliff deal. In my opinion, they've failed so completely that change is not only warranted, it's necessary.

The majority of Americans would list the economy as the number one issue they cared about this past election. Although there are different opinions out there about whether our current debt even warrants concern, more and more are coming to the conclusion that our debt is a critical and debilitating problem (I myself believe that any situation where one's interest payments eat up a significant portion of our revenue is a problem).

In the face of these fiscal difficulties, our politicians have shown time and time again that they are the most inefficient, unrealistic, incapable, and self-centered people in our country. Why work on the problem when it might cause short-term pain that will make voters unhappy and vote against you? Instead of listening to each other and challenging their own assumptions, these people dig in and hold our country hostage again and again. Sure, they've put off the budget cuts for another two months (when this will happen all over again) and passed a deal that keeps most of us from paying higher income taxes, but the way they did it cost our country dearly. The bill would have needed to be passed by mid-December to allow us to file our tax returns (and receive tax returns) on time (a friend of mine wonders what tax software companies are going to do about the software already on shelves);  the constant gridlock has led our country's debt to receive a downgrade; the "extraordinary measures" that our country is about to undertake to pay our bills while we're over the debt limit is costing us more than if we would just up that limit; companies have been avoiding hiring because of uncertainty that hasn't been solved by the latest deal.

All of these problems have a shared root cause (a "common factor" in math terms): the two-party system. That phrase above, "vote against" was intentional. People don't vote "for" politicians anymore. We vote "against" politicians and the party we're afraid to have power. The reason for this has long been recognized yet our current voting system punishes us for voting for third parties. Power comes from exercising options, but first, we need to find a way to give ourselves more meaningful options.

I suggest that everyone go watch the following four videos by CGP Grey: The Problems with First Past the Post Voting, The Alternative Vote Explained, Mixed-Member Proportional Representation, The Problem With the Electoral College.

To be honest, in this world of political inertia where even the most basic and obvious change can be all but impossible (everyone should also watch CGP's Death to Pennies video), I'm pessimistic about our ability to change anything. This is especially true of anything that takes power away from those who currently have it. However, I've been inspired by the gay rights and marijuana legalization movements this past election. Did you know Generation Y made up a larger proportion of the voters this past election than seniors? This younger generation listened to new ideas and did our research. We listened to different viewpoints and considered whether laws and society should stay the same just because they've "always been that way." The research on those two issues didn't change in the past 10 years; the makeup of the voters changed along with our ability to recognize a good idea when we see one and our ability to change our minds (a task that many still find impossible).

That being said, I'm not sure how to proceed, but it seems like the first step should always be awareness. I urge everyone who learns something new from these videos to pass them along to everyone they can. Like any other movement, the biggest barrier to change is a lack of an educated and informed base. The more people who understand the problem and know about possible solutions, the more likely we are to actually move in the direction of positive change.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff Elise. I watched all of the videos. The first was my favorite, by far.

    I share your frustration with our government, especially after this latest fiasco. More than ever it has become a choice of voting for the lesser of evils. I'm not sure I can bring myself to vote for either one of them next time.

    I would think that a change to the voting system would require a constitutional convention. I'll have to ask an expert on constitutional law... wait a minute ;)

    I've heard a couple of Objectivist friends discuss such a possibility. One thing to consider is once the convention is formed, absolutely anything can result. And frankly, I'm not sure I would trust anyone with that sort of power. Certainly not any representative that could get themselves elected. Kind of a chicken and the egg problem.