“Saving Democracy—Realistically”

In my previous post, I linked to Larry Diamond’s new essay in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. The piece deserves a post of its own–and its entirety definitely deserves a careful read.

Larry offers a multi-pronged plan for protecting American democracy from its current danger. Some elements, like reform of the Electoral Count Act, will be familiar to ELB readers. Other ideas seem ambitiously categorized as realistic (at least in the near term), like embracing Australia-style compulsory (more innocuously labeled “universal”) voting. As mentioned previously, Larry embraces ranked-choice voting. What’s more noteworthy is that he urges consideration of Condorcet-based, or round-robin, forms of ranked-choice voting. Here’s what he writes on this point:

But there is one potential flaw in conventional forms of RCV. If in the November general election Democrats in Alaska rank the Democratic candidate as their first preference (even though that candidate is unlikely to win a majority of the vote in a final “instant run-off”) and if a majority of Alaska Republicans rank a more extreme Republican first, Murkowski might finish third in first-preference votes. She would then be eliminated before the final instant run-off of the ranked-choice voting, even if (as seems likely) she would defeat any other candidate in a head-to-head contest. The candidate who beats every other candidate in a head-to-head contest is known in voting theory as the “Condorcet winner.” That is arguably the most democratic principle for choosing a winner, and in any case the one most likely to reward moderation. Voting machines can be designed to use ballot rankings to identify the Condorcet winner, the candidate who would prevail in a series of “round robin” contests.

He also embraces the idea that Congress require majority winners, letting states experiment with different methods of complying with this requirement: “One simple reform Congress could adopt would be to require that members of the House and Senate be elected by majority vote. States would then be free to choose the specific method, either some form of RCV or a run-off election between the top two candidates if no one obtains a majority in early November.” Given Larry’s stature in the field of democracy studies, based on his well-known work on democracies worldwide, one hopes that Congress and other policymakers will take note of this essay and its recommendations.

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