Looking at our two-party system, most individuals don’t see a choice. They simply see the one party they are always going to vote for – and not even necessarily because they feel it best represents them, but simply because it’s the “lesser of two evils”. But if there’s only one party that’s kind of semi-representing them, that’s not really representation at all.
Aside from a matter of representation, the two-party system also creates a host of other issues. Supermajorities and cross-branch conniving have allowed both parties to chip away at the safeguards meant to keep our government running smoothly and fairly – think of the “nuclear” options employed by both parties in Congress (Democrats’ removal of the filibuster, Republicans refusal to vet Supreme Court nominees), the excessive and controversial use of executive orders by presidents, or the way the leaders in Congress will tolerate the dangerous behavior and actions of a president if they’re both “on the same side”. In addition, the fact that there are only two parties to share power can lead to not only a lack of cooperation, but power grabs, extremism, and corruption.
While no system of government is completely immune to these things – the two-party system is particularly vulnerable because power is consolidated into two places only, rather than a variety of places. So what can be done to make elections more equitable and return power to the people? Here are five key things that could change our political landscape and government for the better.
#1: Make Election Day a paid holiday
Ensuring people know there is an election and can get out and vote is an integral part of giving them a voice. As is stands, the United States typically has very low voter turnout compared to other countries. The easiest way to make sure people know there is an election going on is to make the day a paid national holiday where employers are required to give employees the day off . This ensures not only that people will be aware there is an election that day, but it gives them some time to research candidates and can go make an informed vote – all without hurting their wallet.
While this would take an act of Congress, it’s likely to have more bipartisan support than other entries on this list.
#2: Switch to ranked-choice voting
Another one of the easier things to implement is moving America from first-past-the-post voting to ranked-choice voting. This doesn’t require much of a shift in anything except the way we design ballots. It also immediately puts other parties into play. Currently, with first-past-the-post voting, many people will not vote for a party outside of Democrats or Republicans for fear of their vote being wasted and their least-favorite candidate taking office. Ultimately, this leads them to vote for the “lesser of two evils” instead of their preferred candidate. There is also evidence that it can lead to more extremism in politics.
With ranked-choice voting, however, you rank your top choices for office – instead of just choosing one. If your ideal candidate doesn’t get the required votes to win the election, your vote then goes to your second favorite candidate – and so on, until a winner emerges. With ranked-choice voting, people can take comfort in voting for their ideal candidates with the knowledge that, even if their first choice doesn’t make the cut, their vote will go toward someone else they want rather than simply “the lesser of two evils”. This ensures that no third-party votes are “wasted” and encourages a more diverse range of viewpoints and ideas in politics and government.
This would also require an act of Congress to make happen nationally – but can be achieved state-by-state as well.
#3: Make gerrymandering illegal
Gerrymandering, at its simplest, is the act of legislators redrawing voting districts to favor their party. It essentially makes any vote that’s not for them worthless. It’s the reason even deeply unpopular incumbents continue to get elected. It also provides a ripe environment for power consolidation and corruption. A more ideal alternative is having independent panels composed of all parties draw up fair and balanced voting districts.
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that they don’t have the authority to stop gerrymandering – which means Congress would have to make a law banning it in order for this to happen nationwide; though this can also happen in a patchwork fashion at the state level.
#4: Get Big Money out of politics
The 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case overturned long-standing restrictions on political fundraising and spending. Most notably, it granted corporations and other such entities unlimited political spending power. This creates inequality in who is heard most in during election campaigns and after someone takes office.
While it’s not always the case, it’s not unreasonable to say that better-funded candidates stand a greater chance at winning. In an environment where millions of people might donate what they can to one candidate, only to have a competing candidate backed by millions of dollars from a few single donors go on to win – this is an issue. Regardless of who wins, once a candidate takes office, there are also serious concerns of who they are going to listen to: their constituents or their donors.
Having key regulations in place on how much a person can donate (as well as what entities, if any, beyond individuals can donate) would go a long way to reigning in corruption. However, since the Supreme Court has already ruled on this, the only way to change it is at the Congressional level.
#5: Remove the Electoral College
The Electoral College is used solely for the presidential election. It was envisioned as a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by popular vote of citizens. In practice though, it creates a variety of problems.
The first and foremost of these problems are the creation of swing states. Since many states will simply go to one party or another thanks to the “winner takes all” approach in how electors are divvied up, rather than focusing on the whole country, candidates just need to focus on a few key states where electors may be up for grabs. This means that not only are individual votes outside the majority in “solid” red or blue states essentially worthless, but entire states aren’t even heard or catered to. To put it simply: Some votes in some states are worth a whole lot more than other votes in different states.
There’s also the issue that in the Electoral College some votes count four times as much as others. Removing the Electoral College means everyone gets equally represented and states would become purple instead of simply being red or blue. Swing states disappear and the focus for candidates becomes the people of the nation instead of electors or particular states. Finally, it also helps stop voter fraud and corruption. In the Electoral College, even small amounts of voter fraud – especially in swing states – can change an election’s outcome. But in a direct national vote, it becomes much harder for voter fraud to change the outcome. It also erases the possibility of electors being swayed by bribery or voting against the will of the people (as electors are not legally bound to cast their vote for the people’s choice).
And amid fears that this would lead to a “tyranny of the majority”, it’s important to keep in mind that our judicial system is specifically set up to protect the rights of the minority from infringement by the majority.
This would require an amendment to the Constitution to implement – making it one of the most difficult goals to achieve.
What would these changes do?
These changes all set the stage for a strong multi-party system – where it is more difficult for one party to have an outright majority. This means a return to more cooperative politics, an end to the use of “nuclear” options that both parties have used to deteriorate our government’s checks and balances, and a bigger need for politicians to represent their constituents. It means fewer opportunities for power grabs and fewer places for corruption to thrive. It would change the American political landscape as we know it. While there will always by flaws in any system of governance, this gets us much closer to the ideal than where we are now.
Whether you consider yourself Republican, Democrat, or third-party, these changes would not only benefit you individually, but make America a freer, more democratic country. We should all do what we can to work toward these changes – by talking to our representatives, voting for people who include these in their platforms, and being conscious of where our money goes as a consumer and who it supports.