Civically Engaging with Alex Zank

Reforms to the electoral system may make voting easier, more appealing to the people


Graphic by Karl Enghofer, The Spectator

Story by Alex Zank, OP/Ed Editor

In the spirit of the recent spring elections, this is as good a time as any to offer improvements to our electoral system.

Some may ask, “Why do this? There’s nothing wrong with it.” To answer that question, I will assume those asking this are probably upper class males who are at the lowest risk of feeling disenfranchised in the political process.

The truth is, although we can be proud of our frequent and fair elections (that’s already better than a lot of countries), improvements can be made. The major things we need to work on is increasing voter turnout and tackle voter disenfranchisement.

My argument has three parts: introduce runoff elections, eliminate the electoral college for presidential races and build (rather than remove) convenience for voting opportunity. These simple suggestions for reform would require minimal additional legislation or regulation to enact.

The first idea is borrowed from France. Many of its elections are a two-round runoff system. Voters choose from a list of eligible candidates on the first ballot, which is similar to the American system. The difference here is the first ballot doesn’t necessarily determine the winner.

If the candidate with the most votes does not also gain the majority of votes, citizens then get to vote on a second ballot for the two candidates that gathered the highest percentage of votes the first round.

For example, the current president of France, Francois Hollande, only gathered about 28 percent of the vote the first round of his election. There were numerous candidates that all gained a sizable portion of the vote; the candidate with the third most was within 10 percentage points of Hollande.

The second round was a runoff between Hollande and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and Hollande won with over 50 percent of the vote. Imagine what would have happened in the 1992 election when third-party candidate Ross Perot had nearly 19 percent of the vote?

If our electoral system resembled France’s, it wouldn’t guarantee that we’d have more competitive presidential elections. But the opportunity would be there to vote for a different candidate. I at least know I would be more likely to vote for a third-party candidate (presidential, Congressional, etc.) without that feeling of guilt that I’m wasting my vote.

My second point is merely a call to eliminate an archaic electoral strategy. The electoral college was created partly out of fear of leaving the presidential vote entirely up to the masses.

In the 21st Century, we as a nation have faith in ourselves to vote in our interest without electing a tyrant or Mickey Mouse, although he did gather 11 votes in the 2008 election. So why do we hold on to the electoral college instead of using the popular vote? It would have made a difference in 2000.

The third part of my argument is more of a reaction to a recent disturbing trend. Our own state was one of several that either tried to pass or did pass a Voter ID law. Though ours was passed but currently not being enforced, there are plenty of states with a similar voting restriction in place.

Even more recently, Gov. Scott Walker signed into law restrictions on early voting, not allowing this to take place on weekends. He did use his partial veto powers to reduce the potency of the original restrictions. However, there is still no reason early voting, meant for adding convenience for Wisconsin residents, cannot take place on weekends.

We should be proud of Wisconsin’s tendency of high voter turnout. Recent actions by our state government do not reflect any such pride.

These three proposals would be a good start to improving our elections, all in the hopes of encouraging voter turnout with easier voting opportunity and adding more opportunity and avoiding discouraging electoral blunders.