Category Archives: alternative voting systems

Blake Hounshell NYT Newsletter on the Revival of a Push for Fusion Voting


One of the great paradoxes of America’s polarized political system is that people seem to hate it, yet few can conceive of a way out.

Every once in a while, a third-party candidate catches fire — as the quirky billionaire Ross Perot did in the 1992 presidential race, appealing to a chunk of voters who were unhappy with deficits and trade deals. More often, though, such candidates fizzle.

Many people wring their hands about political polarization and calcification, but grudgingly accept it as the inevitable result of the way voters are sorting themselves by geography or education, or the baleful effects of social media and cable news, or the product of slicing and dicing by political operatives who stoke fear and outrage to win elections.

One of the latest and more intriguing efforts to try to change the system comes in the form of two forthcoming lawsuits by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit group, and a new outfit called the Moderate Party.

Starting the week after Thanksgiving, the two groups separately plan to sue the State of New Jersey to allow fusion voting, a practice the state banned in the 1920s. It’s legal in only a few states, including Connecticut, New York and Oregon.

Under fusion voting, multiple parties can nominate the same candidate, who then appears more than once on the ballot. Proponents say it allows voters who don’t feel comfortable with either major party to express their preferences without “wasting” votes on candidates with no hope of winning.

In New York, there are two prominent fusion parties: the Working Families Party, which often endorses Democratic candidates, and the Conservative Party, which typically backs Republicans.

What’s different about the New Jersey effort is that it is driven by the political center; the Moderate Party was co-founded by Richard A. Wolfe, a partner at the law firm Fried Frank and a former small-town mayor who told me he was repulsed by the Republican Party’s embrace of conspiracy theories and its fealty toward Donald Trump, but could not stomach voting for a Democrat.

Wolfe was a supporter of Representative Tom Malinowski, a moderate Democrat who lost his re-election bid to Thomas Kean Jr., a Republican. But when the Moderate Party petitioned the New Jersey secretary of state to allow Malinowski to be nominated on its ballot line, she ruled the move illegal.

The Moderate Party and Protect Democracy had originally hoped to file their suits appealing the ruling months ago, but held off amid concerns that the courts would not want to weigh in until after the election. Republicans also raised questions about the Moderate Party when news reports emerged that the House Majority PAC, a Democratic-aligned outside group linked to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was underwriting the party’s ads in support of Malinowski.

Share this:

Rank Choice Voting: A Scaleable Reform?

As more jurisdictions are considering introducing rank choice voting (the issue will be on the ballot in Nevada this fall), Politico offers this long-form essay on Alaska’s experience. Can Alaska “point the way to a more moderate, more nuanced way of doing politics”? Or is rank choice voting a product of Alaska’s uniquely independent culture? Politico spoke to Ivan Moore, “a longtime Alaska pollster who is considered one of the foremost experts on the state’s politics.”

“Number one, that ranked choice voting worked well. Pretty flawless performance by the Alaska Division of Elections.

. . .

[Sarah Palin lost because] Sarah Palin is indeed very unpopular.”

Interestingly, the relationship of a state’s culture to the potential for reform is a longstanding question. Early adopters of vote by mail, early voting, and same-day registration, for example, were often states that already had high turnout. This often led political scientists (and I believed them) to conclude the reforms were not scaleable. But 2020 seems to have proved them wrong.

By way of clarification, even if the Nevada ballot initiative is successful, the earliest the reform could be implemented is 2026. Amendment to the state constitution must be passed in two consecutive cycles. Rank choice voting is on the ballot in nine jurisdictions this fall, but the rest are at the municipal level.

Share this:

“Scholars Ask Congress to Scrap Winner-Take-All Political System”


If there’s one thing we know about America’s creaking democracy, it’s this: Whenever it seems fundamentally broken, people get together to try to fix it.

That’s happening now. We’re living through one of the United States’ periodic bursts of reformist energy, with various groups pushing to alter the structure of our elections even as — or rather because — millions of voters on both sides of our partisan divide question the integrity of the system.

The latest entry is a roster of more than 200 American political scientists who have put forward a sweeping proposal to change the way the United States has conducted its federal elections for nearly 250 years.

In a sharply written open letter to Congress published on Monday and shared in advance with The New York Times, the scholars tell lawmakers, “It is clear that our winner-take-all system — where each U.S. House district is represented by a single person — is fundamentally broken.” They call on Congress to “adopt inclusive, multimember districts with competitive and responsive proportional representation.”

The list of signatories includes nine of the 18 living U.S.-based winners of the Johan Skytte Prize, a prestigious Swedish award that has become a kind of unofficial Nobel for political science: Robert Axelrod, Francis Fukuyama, Peter J. Katzenstein, Robert Keohane, David D. Laitin, Margaret Levi, Arend Lijphart, Philippe C. Schmitter and Rein Taagepera.

“Our arcane, single-member districting process divides, polarizes and isolates us from each other,” the professors write. “It has effectively extinguished competitive elections for most Americans, and produced a deeply divided political system that is incapable of responding to changing demands and emerging challenges with necessary legitimacy.”

Share this:

“After Sarah Palin’s election loss, Sen. Tom Cotton calls ranked choice voting ‘a scam'”

NBC News:

After Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Sarah Palin in Alaska’s special election Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., discredited the voting system used by Alaska voters that they chose to implement in their state.

Cotton tweeted that Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system “is a scam to rig elections,” casting doubt on the outcome of the process to fill the seat of late GOP Rep. Don Young.

“60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion — which disenfranchises voters — a Democrat ‘won,'” Cotton said in a separate tweet.

fter Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Sarah Palin in Alaska’s special election Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., discredited the voting system used by Alaska voters that they chose to implement in their state.

Cotton tweeted that Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system “is a scam to rig elections,” casting doubt on the outcome of the process to fill the seat of late GOP Rep. Don Young.

“60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion — which disenfranchises voters — a Democrat ‘won,'” Cotton said in a separate tweet….

In response to Cotton, retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeted, “Ranked choice voting gives all Americans a voice and not the extremes of a party. So youd be outta luck. No wonder you don’t like it.”

Share this:

Pildes on Ranked Choice Voting

Fredreka Schouten of CNN interviews Rick Pildes. Here’s a highlight:

RCV … encourages the election of candidates with the broadest electoral appeal. It also makes it likely that candidates who win will have the support of a majority of voters. A factional candidate might get 30% of the vote, but if that candidate doesn’t attract wider support, they won’t succeed in an RCV system. The system encourages candidates to reach out to voters who might not prefer that candidate as their first choice, but whom the candidate still wants to persuade to rank them second or third. In that way, it also encourages less hostile forms of campaigning. I do not want to brutally tear down an opposing candidate, because I want their supporters still to think well enough of me to rank me second or third.

RCV also reduces the risk of spoiler candidates and so does not force voters into artificial choices. Suppose a moderate and a progressive (or staunch conservative) are running. I might prefer the progressive, but worry about whether that candidate is electable, and I have to decide whether to vote my sincere preference or vote for the more electable candidate. But with RCV, I can rank the progressive first and if they do not have enough votes, my vote will transfer to the moderate candidate….

There has definitely been an upsurge in adoptions of RCV even in the last few years. I think that’s a reflection of frustrations with how polarized our politics and choices have become. Whether it continues to spread elsewhere will probably be a function of how it’s perceived to go in high-profile races and places, such as in Alaska or Maine.

Share this:

The Conservative Case for Proportional Representation

In the wake of New York’s redistricting decision this week, Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen urges Congress to reach a bipartisan agreement to end gerrymandering and offers three ways to do that. All three deserve attention, and I suspect that for something to pass Congress it would need to embrace a federalism-based approach by which states could choose from a menu of options (like Olsen’s three anti-gerrymandering alternatives) to achieve a congressionally-determined objective.

But here I want to highlight the third of Olsen’s three proposals: invoking Switzerland as “model” for how to “elect House members by proportional representation.” I can’t recall a comparably prominent conservative voice promoting so forcefully the idea of using PR in the US. Am I forgetting something similar?

As Olsen indicates, Congress could jump-start state-based experimentation with PR for congressional seats simply by repealing its statutory (not constitutionally required) single-member district requirement. Given Senator Mitch McConnnell’s aversion to imposing new congressional mandates on states even for the conduct of congressional elections, pursuit of proportional representation could be advanced by doing the opposite: removing a congressional constraint that already exists. McConnell ought to be in favor of giving states the option of using PR for their congressional delegation, if that’s what states prefer. I can imagine Ohio, after its current redistricting debacle, becoming the first state to explore this way to avoid being a national embarrassment again.

Thus, is there a deal to be had among congressional Republicans and Democrats to repeal the single-seat district requirement and give states the freedom to experiment with PR? I would expect a deal like this might be more attractive to Democrats when they consider what the Supreme Court might decide in the pending Alabama redistricting case. If the Court adopts the argument advanced by Alabama in its recently filed merits brief, it’s not going to be constitutionally permissible for Congress to enact a revised Voting Rights Act that would enable single-member districts to be drawn to enhance the relative voting power for racial minority groups (comparable to what minority voting power would exist in districts drawn without consideration of race). The only constitutionally permissible way to pursue proportional political power for minority voters would be through a race-neutral across-the-board system of proportional representation, in which minority voters would be able to elect candidates and parties of their choice in proportion to their numbers in the state’s whole electorate.

Repealing the single-member district requirement would require some measure to prevent a state, whether Alabama or any other, from simply electing all its congressional seats in at-large first-past-the-post statewide elections, which obviously would not be proportional representation and would cause severe minority vote dilution. But a new Act of Congress that permitted states to abandon single-member districts if they adopted a Swiss-style, or some other, form of statewide proportional representation for their congressional delegation? That might be the best way to protect minority voting power, as well as avoiding gerrymandering, given the current Supreme Court and the need for bipartisan compromise for anything to pass Congress.

In light of Olsen’s column, is pursuing this kind of bipartisan deal worth further exploration?

Share this:

Will there be a “spoiler” in 2024?

Andrew Yang is the guest on the new must-listen episode of Sarah Longwell’s Focus Group podcast. They discuss the possibility of a significant third-party, or independent, candidate in the 2024 presidential race. Yang, who’s started his own Forward Party, essentially promises one–especially if the two major-party candidates are Biden and Trump again, although he doesn’t say he’ll necessarily be the candidate. He offers Mark Cuban as the example of a candidate who he thinks could compete effectively against both Biden and Trump.

Sarah Longwell expresses the concern that any third candidate would pull more votes from the Democratic nominee than from Trump, assuming that Trump is the GOP nominee. Fearing for the future of US democracy itself if Trump wins a second term, Longwell worries that any third candidacy (however well-intentioned) could end up devastating for the country by being the cause of Trump’s return to power. For what it’s worth, I share Longwell’s concern for the reasons she expresses.

Yang and Longwell also discuss the possibility of ranked-choice voting as a way to avoid the potential spoiler effect. Yang says he’s not willing to wait for ranked-choice voting to be in place in order for there to be a third-party candidate. While he’d prefer ranked-choice voting to come first, from his perspective disrupting the major-party duopoly (as he puts it) is necessary, even at the risk of creating a spoiler effect in 2024. At least, that’s how I heard him express his position on the podcast.

In any event, it’s time to dust off copies of Presidential Elections and Majority Rule, which discusses the importance of adopting ranked-choice voting on a state-by-state basis (like Maine and Alaska) as the method of appointing presidential electors, in order to guarantee that winner-take-all electoral votes are awarded to majority winners, thereby avoiding the potential “spoiler” effect of third-party or independent candidates.

Do we really want to be in the position where whether Trump wins or loses in 2024 depends on the idiosyncratic decision of an individual billionaire, like Mark Cuban, to enter the election as an alternative to both Trump and the Democratic nominee?

Share this: