Why Democrats should want range voting

(Executive summary)   (RV Advantages for Dems)   (How Dems can reap those advantages)

Gore lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush (at least according to official vote totals) because of the spoiler effect of the 97488 Nader voters in Florida. Bush then earned the dubious distinction of being one of the very few US presidents to have been elected with fewer popular votes than his main rival. If even a small fraction of those Nader voters had been forced to decide between Gore and Bush, then polls show Gore would have won the presidency as he (from the popular vote point of view) deserved. Then we probably would now have a far healthier US Federal Budget situation, and probably wouldn't have gotten involved in the Iraq war quagmire, and wouldn't have lost many years of stem cell research, which may end up costing humanity a hundred million unnecessarily-lost lives.

Was all this Nader's fault? No – that is not the correct allocation of the blame. It was the plurality voting system's fault. With range voting, Nader supporters could have expressed their views about Gore and Bush while still happily supporting Nader. Problem solved: Gore would have won.

The Democrats then overreacted to this experience by trying to destroy Nader's Green Party by a variety of immoral unethical tactics. (Such as about 20 simultaneous lawsuits and admitted organized mass infiltrations of meetings of Nader supporters, to try to prevent Nader from getting on state ballots in 2004 so that voters couldn't vote Nader even if they wanted to.) But that was not right.

And even if that doesn't bother you, you must admit that it does bother many other people, hence had the bad consequence that a heck of a lot of outraged Nader fans then swore eternal emnity to the Democrats. Under range voting, the Dems would never have tried to destroy the Greens and Nader, and Naderites would have remained more their allies than their enemies. Wouldn't that have been more like the kind of civilized world that we prefer? Nader was more in favor of budget balancing and more against the Iraq war than Gore & Lieberman and Kerry & Edwards, so the Democrats ought to have embraced him as an ally, if the world were at all logical.

What is wrong with bringing some logic into this picture, rather than fighting as hard as we can to expunge logic? Why not simply institute range voting, then just happily be friends with Nader and happily accept the victory that Gore would have gotten and deserved?

Another typical example: the special election held in 1997 to fill the 3rd-district New Mexico U.S. House seat. Popular Green candidate Carol Miller won 17% of the vote and thus threw the election to the Republican candidate Bill Redmond, who won with only 42%. The Democrat Serna, whom Miller successfully argued was just not a good enough "lesser of two evils," lost with 40%. Now. Wouldn't things have been nicer if you had range voting?

One other thing: primaries

Aside from all the considerations of enhanced quality for the USA and the increased fairness of range voting, there is much to be said for just doing the thing that gets you ahead.

As we've seen, the Democrats adopted the unethical, and quite likely foolish and perhaps even suicidal, course of trying to destroy Nader and the Green party, even though those people, under a sensible voting system like range voting, would have been the Democrats' natural allies. It was a case of fratricide caused by a broken system, rather than trying to fix that system. And also it did not work – Bush won anyway in 2004.

But even if you are the sort of ultra-hard-nosed person who doesn't care about that, who loves fratricide, and maybe you'd even kill your own grandmother to get ahead – then consider this suggestion. Employ range voting in your own primaries – especially the Iowa 2008 Caucuses, since you can do that without any changes in state law, merely by changing your own internal party procedures. That way, you will get better Democrat candidates. And those better candidates will get better reputations and get elected more than the GOP candidates who were selected via non-range-voting primaries. This could make the difference in gaining the presidency, that could lead to long-term dominance – and it costs you nothing. This is one of those no-brainer moves that would cause immense benefit for your party at incredibly tiny cost, probably more benefit for less effort than any other move you could make.

Don't buy that? Check the analyses by Joslyn and Merrill of the 1972 USA presidential election showing that the Democrats, by foolishly employing plurality voting for their primaries instead of approval voting (or essentially any other system besides plurality would have done better) ended up getting thumped in the general election by one of the biggest "landslide" defeats ever. (And here are some more studies indicating how incredibly ill-suited plurality voting is for use in party primaries.) Do you like getting killed? If not, we suggest learning from this mistake and adopting range voting for your next presidential primary. As Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Return to main page