Real Democracy Or Dystopia

by Steven Hill

Steven Hill is director of the Political Reform Program of the New America Foundation and author of 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy .

. . . Imagine that, in 2011, Congress finally passed a law ensuring that voting equipment and election administration would be overseen by a national elections commission that rigorously tests and produces the best voting equipment and election administrative practices. Election officials are now trained and certified professionals, with expertise in computer technology, databases, election logistics and public relations.

By the 2016 presidential election, 24 states have signed on to the National Popular Vote compact, which awards 100 percent of each state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, enough that the election has become a de facto direct election for president. The candidates no longer can confine their campaigns to a handful of battleground states, especially the bigger ones like Ohio and Florida. Instead the candidates crisscross the nation, ignoring practically no one, trying to pick up every single vote they can. It’s going to be a close race, just as it has been in every presidential election since 2000, and no one knows whether the decisive votes will come from Wyoming, North Dakota, California or some other state. This in turn leads to a massive mobilization of voters, old and new, who suddenly aren’t being ignored because they live in the wrong state.

These 24 states as well as several others also have decided to use instant runoff voting (IRV) so voters can rank their candidates and guarantee majority winners in a single election. Now the presence of independent and third-party candidates not only does not spoil the race, but injects fresh faces and new ideas into the debate. Voters are excited to hear a range of candidates directly addressing their concerns. And they can vote for these candidates without fear of contributing to their least favorite candidate winning. The net effect of this national direct IRV election is that voter turnout surges across the nation to a phenomenal 77 percent of eligible voters, the highest turnout in a 120 years.

But that’s not all. By 2016, imagine that 19 states have scrapped their antiquated winner-take-all elections and adopted proportional voting for electing their state legislatures and members of Congress. As a result, multiparty democracies have sprouted, giving voters a broad range of choices. Democrats and Republicans, but also a Libertarian Party, Green Party, Working Families Party and a centrist Ross Perot-type New America Party are all vying for legislative seats. The candidates are funded by public financing and free media time, so even the smaller parties have sufficient resources for TV and radio ads to reach voters. For the first time, millions of voters are seeing real competition and hearing a genuine debate with real political choices. As a result, voter turnout for legislative elections has doubled to 70 percent of eligible voters, almost as high as other nations. . . .

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