The presidential elections are more than a year away, but already media analysts have begun looking at politicians through the campaign lens. How will their actions today influence voters in November 2004? The question on my mind is: what will be different about the voting system in 2004? What lessons, if any, will we have learned from the debacle of 2000?
In my view, American democracy is ailing. Outwardly, the country may be at the peak of its economic and military power, but inwardly, the divisions in the country are growing. The will of the people is reflected less and less in its winner-take-all style of democracy. Nowhere was this more evident than in the last presidential elections when the candidate who won the popular vote lost the race.
Who wins in American elections today is determined by who has the most money to spend “educating” the public. When all the media are controlled by a handful of large corporations, the candidates who get air-time are those that are part of the establishment. It is impossible for new candidates or ideas to surface. What’s one to make of presidential debates which are open only to Republicans and Democrats, which candidates from other parties cannot attend, let alone participate?
Have you had those moments when, during the evening news, you are flipping channels, looking for something interesting, and you find every channel carries the same news stories? This is what happens when too few newsrooms with too few reporters are run by too few mega companies. What we need is more news organizations, not less, in more diverse hands.
What the nation also needs is serious campaign finance reform. Large corporations and wealthy interest groups have disproportionate power at the polls. These vested interests will fight reform tooth and nail, but without it the true spirit of democracy will never be realized.
One simple reform would have a far-reaching impact on our voting system. Instant Runoff Voting would allow voters to vote for more than one candidate, in order of preference. It would encourage more participation, from voters as well as candidates, because voters could vote their conscience as well as strategy, and candidates would learn to woo not only the top votes of each voter but also the 2nd or 3rd tier votes. This system is currently in use in Ireland, Vermont, and San Francisco, and enjoys the support of Senator John McCain. The winner-take-all approach is fit for casinos, not democracies.