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We live in a world of options—in picking cars, colleges, and cats, and choosing hats, homes, and hotels. There’s nary a binary choice in view…EXCEPT…when it comes to mainstream politics and our Presidential elections. In that domain, we have two choices—Democrat or Republican. Pick one. Except that millions of voters aren’t.

ranked choice voting

For decades, Republicans have tilted to the right. Where does that leave moderates? The Democrats talk Progressive, but they almost run a centrist. Where does that leave Progressives? Sure, there’s diversity of choice during primary season, but it still ends up with ONE person leading each party and running for president.

Let’s face it: the independent option is a personal choice in response to a non-accommodating system. What we need is for the system to change.

It’s no surprise, then, that millions of voters aren’t buying what they’re offered. They’re bolting the parties and going independent. Independent politics is a pure form of ‘one person, one vote,’ a radical departure from the ‘two parties, pick one’ system we have currently. But let’s face it: the independent option is a personal choice in response to a non-accommodating system. What we need is for the system to change.

How? Let’s get the political parties out of the nominating business. How innovative is that? Not. In just about every city in which I’ve lived (and there have been a ton), city council candidates run as individuals, some with party endorsements, but many without party identification or as party nominees. Candidates tell you for what they stand, and what they’d do if elected, and, then, we—the voters—decide.

That’s reasonable. The challenge is implementing the approach nationally. Here’s one way to do it.

Candidates would register to run, state by state, just as they do now. The mainstream parties—any party, for that matter—can endorse one or more presidential candidates, but they can’t nominate candidates. Candidates would stand for a primary election in each state, just as they do currently, but there would be a nationally uniform system of state primary elections. All states will run OPEN PRIMARIES—not closed primaries or primaries by party. In other words, there would be ONE, OPEN primary in each state.

Primary voters would vote just as they do now. Votes would be tallied for each candidate, by state, and the primary winner in each state would be duly noted. At the end of the primary season, a non-partisan presidential election commission appointed by Congress would review the data and, then, make the call about how many candidates will appear on the November ballot. Their judgment would be based on raw numbers (of votes) across the states, as well as candidates’ relative performance across states, including how many times each candidate won or came in second or third in state primaries.

This process would likely yield more than two candidates on the November ballot, and it wouldn’t guarantee a ballot spot for either of the mainstream parties. But the Commission’s decision would be voter-not party-centered, and that will improve the system enormously.

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And because there would be many, not just two, names on the November ballot, I’d like to see the country adopt ranked-choice voting for electing presidents. Rank-order balloting gives voters a chance to RANK MULTIPLE candidates, not pick just one (e.g., three candidates, ranked first, second, and third). Ballotpedia describes what comes next.

“If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If NO candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the FEWEST first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the voters’ SECOND-PREFERENCE choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.”

Ranked-choice voting exists—and will soon be implemented—in a variety of locations around the country. Locations include the entire state of Maine (Federal and state elections) and for all elections in the City of Portland. It already exists or will be coming soon to New York City, the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley area, Minneapolis, Sarasota, Memphis, Eastpointe, MI, Cambridge and Amherst, MA, and Santa Fe and La Cruses, NM. These are experimental locations. With practice, kinks can be worked out so that when ranked-choice voting goes national, it’s less likely to have problems.

Why do I prefer what I have just proposed? The current binary choice system is profoundly constraining, as it was for me in 2016. I couldn’t vote for Trump, and wouldn’t vote for Clinton, so I wrote-in Sanders’ name. Even though Bernie won our state’s 2016 Democratic primary election, his name wasn’t on the November ballot because he wasn’t the Democratic Party nominee for president.

My point? America can do better. Right now it’s doing less than ok.

Is my proposal unrealistic? Politically, the parties (and their affiliates) would fight hard to keep it from happening. The voters? They are a different matter. There may come a day in America—and if it does, it won’t be decades from now—when Independents become the largest block of America’s voters. Without allegiance to a party, Independents won’t follow a party line. Also, as more states and localities pursue ranked-choice voting, what may appear now to be ‘weird’ to voters, will become more familiar.

In a world with options and constant innovation, what seems weird to me is that we’ve retained our flawed system of electing presidents—especially when there is no mention of parties in the Constitution. So why do we cede power to the Democrats and Republicans? There isn’t a good reason other than ‘that’s how we’ve done it.’

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Well, let’s do it differently—for democracy’s sake.

Frank Fear