Maine Spoils Voting Reform

Thanks to our own podcast, The Freecast, it has come to my attention that the Maine electorate passed Ranked-Choice (AKA Instant-Runoff) Voting for all elections – despite the opposition of the Republicrat/Demopublican duopoly and the legislature they control.

This may seem like a big victory for third parties, but it may prove Pyrrhic. Because while Ranked-Choice is considered by public choice scholars to be superior to Plurality (the “normal” method used in most American elections, which is universally regarded as awful), it is also significantly more complicated and prone to error. Voters must rank their choices in order of preference, and then the votes are counted often in a dozen or more “rounds”, in which the losing candidate’s votes are re-allocated based on their voters’ next preference. Hard to explain, and hard to implement.

So, there have been several cases in which Ranked-Choice was adopted only to be repealed shortly thereafter. This can then salt the earth for other voting reform initiatives that may actually produce significant positive change.

The obvious alternative is Approval Voting. Approval Voting simply requires that voters be able to choose one or more candidates when they vote. This simple modification to the current election system actually results in vastly different outcomes. This is because voters are no longer incentivized to use their one precious vote to elect the “lesser of two evils.” They can vote for the less offensive major party candidate as well as any minor party candidate they also like. See this interview about an experiment run by Occupy Wall Street activists to test the different voting methods.

The interview also mentions Score Voting (AKA Range Voting), in which voters can rank each candidate on a scale of 1-5. It’s like Yelp reviews for politicians… and the candidate with the highest “star rating” is elected. Score Voting is more effective but also more complicated than Approval Voting, so most advocates focus on Approval as a good first step (giant leap, really).

Maine may have missed the opportunity to switch to one of these superior systems, but New Hampshire and Vermont still have a chance to get voting reform right the first time!

Why should a bunch of voluntarists care about what voting method states use?

Here are two good reasons:

1. The current system vastly under-reports support for libertarian ideas, as expressed through the Libertarian Party and principled libertarian candidates of any party. When normal people see this, they assume the ideas themselves are unpopular or unworkable – which we know is false.

2. As we become more organized as a free society, we will have to learn how best to make voluntary group decisions. Even within the liberty movement, the default is still often Plurality Voting – and it still promotes worse outcomes than other methods we could choose.

The Center for Election Science is an excellent resource for further study and advocacy.

Author: Mike Vine

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