This weekend news broke that former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is exploring a potential independent bid for president. A Morning Consult poll shows his appeal is at this point limited to about 15%, but it’s early. Both major party nominations are in play, and with billions of dollars and a proven record in business and politics, Bloomberg could be a formidable candidate after introducing himself in ads, media coverage and the debates to the many voters who don’t know much about him.
Bloomberg isn’t alone, of course. Former U.S. Senator Jim Webb has been floating the potential of an independent bid, some suggest Donald Trump might run as an independent if failing to win the Republican nomination, and the Greens and Libertarians are among minor parties who will field candidates on the ballot in most states. More voter choice is healthy for our politics, and better reflects the diversity of opinion and interests in modern America. Although our antiquated “plurality” voting system is far less equipped to handle better voice choice than proven alternatives like ranked choice voting, some analysts like Norm Ornstein in theWashington Post are too quick to dismiss the chances of an independent winning within our current voting rules.
Ornstein in his oped focuses on alleged barriers created by the Electoral College. He postulates that if an independent candidate and the major party nominees each won about a third of the vote, “no candidate would come close to the majority of 270 required, under the Constitution, for victory,” thereby throwing the choice of president to Congress and its bizarre rules of the Senate picking the vice-president based on one Senator, one vote and the House picking the president based on one vote per state delegation.
But Ornstein’s “nightmare” is overheated. In order to give an idea of what might happen when a presidential election features a strong third candidate, FairVote simulated the results of a better performance by Texan Ross Perot when in 1992 he earned 18.9% of the vote again winner Bill Clinton (43%) and Republican incumbent George Bush (37.5%.).