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Multiparty political system needed now

In this issue:

Turning the Green Party Black in 2003
Green candidates win fifty percent of local races
State election analysis presents challenges to Party growth
Whither To Grow?
Greens grow as a state force in California politics
PATRIOT Act takes US to McCarthyism, and beyond
Green Party of the U.S. Opposes Iraqi Invasion
Multiparty political system needed now
UCD Campus Greens take leading role in upgrading democracy
Endorsements matter in City Council race
Editorial: FAQ - What Does it Mean to Vote Green?
Editorial: Fear of the 'enemy' masks the danger within
Review: The War on Freedom - How and Why America was Attacked September 11, 2001
News Clips
A system that allows multiple parties to compete effectively will better represent the populace, reduce voter apathy, and will broaden ever narrowing platforms.

By Kelly Ferguson

How have we, as a nation whose constitution begins, “We the people,” allowed the political process to get so far out of our own hands? We now have a representational democracy, which is neither representative of our population, nor—as we saw in the 2000 presidential elections—a democracy. Each election year we are forced to choose between two candidates, both handpicked by the corporate and special interest backed duopoly. However, alternative political parties do exist, whose candidates are beholden only to the will of the voters. Unfortunately, during campaign season you will hear very little, if anything, about third party candidates, who must struggle to be heard over the torrent of publicity created by the two main parties. The media, highjacked by millions of advertising dollars, only covers candidates endorsed by the major parties, and so a vast number of potential voters will never even know they had a choice beyond “the lesser of two evils.”

If we are to have a true democratic society, the American political system must be restructured to allow all political parties equal campaign opportunities. Proponents of the status quo will claim that our political system is open to any number of political parties, but in reality the present electoral process favors only the main two. Many factors within our political system conspire to limit the number of parties. Such limitation has resulted in poor voter turnout, political stagnation, and a government that does not reflect the cultural or ethnic diversity within this nation.

To enact change, we must first eliminate what I refer to as the “fallacy of the wasted vote.” I have often heard from friends and family alike, that my votes for a third party candidate are being wasted. In truth, the only wasted vote is the one not cast. However, steps can be taken to ensure the value of each vote is maximized. Winner-take-all elections must be replaced by Proportional Representation. Such a format will make each vote more valuable. Proportional Representation may seem odd to those of us conditioned to our present political system, but it allows for representation for both majority and minority parties. In this system, local and regional elections are held over a greater area, and the number of seats each party occupies depends on the percentage of votes each receives. For example, if an election was held for ten available seats and the Republicans, Democrats, and Reformists received 40%, 40%, and 20% of the votes cast, respectively, each party would be represented, even without a majority. The Republicans and Democrats would hold four seats each and the Reform party would fill the two remaining seats. Under this system, minority parties stand a much better chance of being elected to office. The German Green party holds the third highest number of political seats in their country, but the American Green party, which regularly receives 5-7% (and has received as much as 11%) of the votes cast, holds only a few regional seats. Most European countries have replaced winner-take-all elections in favor of proportional representation. In fact, much of the world has already adopted such a system, yet as Steven Hill writes, “we continue to use an antiquated winner-take-all voting system that most major democracies have long since abandoned because of its unrepresentative and undemocratic nature.”

In elections where Proportional Representation is not feasible, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) can be implemented. Under this system, each voter picks a second candidate, in addition to their first choice. In a given race, if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the candidate with the lowest vote total is dropped from the race. His or her votes then go to each voter’s second choice. This process continues until a candidate has a majority of the votes. Under IRV, voters can show their support for emerging parties, and the issues they bring up, without the fear that their vote will be wasted or help elect a candidate they dislike. In this way, IRV also helps eliminate the dubious “spoiler” moniker given to many third parties. For if a third party receives 10% of the vote, with IRV all of those votes would be transferred to another candidate.

Multiple parties will better represent the populous, reduce voter apathy, and will broaden ever narrowing platforms. The present two party political system has little to offer would-be voters. Opponents of reform argue that low voter turnout is due to apathy or indifference, but this is not the case. According to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, “It may be that non-voters are not as apathetic as many think. It’s possible that they have decided to reject an electoral process they consider unfair, untrustworthy and irrelevant to their lives.”

A viable multiparty system within the US is possible, but it will only come about after several changes are made to the present two party system. Proportional Representation and IRV are the keys to opening the door of opportunity for small independent parties. With more choices available, voter turnout is sure to increase, and such a system will result in representation of both the majority and the minority. If all parties are given equal opportunities, multiparty races will become the rule, not the exception. The political stagnation we see today can be eliminated, but only if we, as the voting public, make our voices heard over the din of campaign season.

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