The Government is Still in Our Hands

One of the dominant memes in recent political commentary (at least at the popular level) as been the failure of the two-party system. The ongoing (as of July 8th) standoff in congress over the debt ceiling is indicative of a larger trend in which party interests are placed so far ahead of national interests that, in the words of Sen. Chuck Schumer, “the best way to win is hurt the country as much as possible.”
Say what you will about our founders’ intentions, but political parties are a terribly convenient  way to ensure voters that their vote will count — an independent legislator who was elected for his stance on a particular set of issues has almost no way of actually taking action on those issues in a legislative body of hundreds. The system has failed in a number of ways, some almost coincidental and some deeply structural.

Mickey Edwards has some suggestions on how to fix the party system. I have a couple of my own ideas, much more sweeping changes to our voting system intended to ensure the viability of mulitple parties. One of the biggest reasons our national political environment has stabilized in a bi-polar power struggle is the mechanics of one-vote-per-person and winner-take-all districts. No matter how many people vote for a third party, the party will not win any seats unless their voters have a majority in one voting district. Therefore, at least at the national level, very few voters ever bother to vote for third-party candidates. The British parliament, and perhaps many other parliaments, use a proprtional distribution so that the ratio of MPs by political party is equal to the ratio of voters by the same.

Another interesting method of tallying votes could be to give each voter one fewer votes than the number of candidates declared in the race. Under the current system, the only way to vote against a candidate is to vote for her most likely opponent. In the proposed expanded voting technique, which should be familiar to viewers of some reality-TV competitions, voting against a candidate would mean casting one vote for every other candidate. Voters could also vote for two candidates equally, or one preferred and one backup, or any other combination they chose.

All of these reforms seem a long way off and unlikely to ever be passed under our current system. In the meantime, it seems like the only way to break the Tea Party stranglehold on Congress is to vote in a lot more Democrats in 2012, who will proceed to wield their power with impunity until 2014 when the republicans get put back in office. I propose an immediate, powerful fix in the form of a pledge, to be taken by as many voters as possible all across the country:

I pledge to cast no vote for any candidate for any elected position in the federal government from any major political party* until such time as serious measures have been undertaken to correct the shortcomings of the party system.

Will you take the pledge with me?

*”Major political party” can easily be defined as a party which controls at least one third of the seats in any governing body — not that it’s likely that any part other than Democrat and Republican will fit this definition in the foreseeable future.

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