As I've said before, I firmly believe term limits are a key component to combating the corruption plaguing our government system. Power, even limited and numerated, should never be held for too long. George Washington was way beyond his years wise in this. Unfortunately, the legislative and judicial branches did not follow suit. In my opinion, it'd be harder to curate power in DC in only a few years. The changing of the guard means no politician, or judge, is able to attain high amounts of influence that lead to corruption. Most candidates being elected for the first time have a stronger sense of duty to their people and the ideology that fuels them. This isn't always true. But the good news is for those that easily come under corruption's influence, they'll be gone within a few years.
Enough about term limits. Let's talk about another part of political corruption that has its stranglehold on Washington: the dual party system that dominates our political landscape. Pretty much since the beginning of this country, we've only really had two major parties. Over the course of time, there have been other parties that have come along that has an ideology that doesn't quite fit into either of the two major parties. In fact, this was how the Republican party was born. The Republicans ran on an abolitionist platform. Yet that wasn't really popular among the Democrat or Whig parties, the two dominant parties at the time. But it managed to gain traction and eventually supplant the Whig party, giving us the Republican and Democrat parties of today. There have been many parties since then that would gain popularity, but would never do what the Republican party was able to do. Today, these parties are largely marginalized since a number will feel forced to vote Republican or Democrat to keep out the opposition candidate. This problem has been more pronounced than ever in this recent election cycle. We, in effect, have 5 different ideologies trying to fit into 2 nomination slots. We have Conservative, Establishment Republican, Independent Republican, Liberal Democrat, and Socialist. We have a 6th ideology, Libertarian, that will run on its own nomination.
So why are there so many trying to grab the Republican or Democrat nomination? It's because the general presidential election does not have a run off voting system. Without a runoff system, it simply means the candidate with the most votes, whether real votes or electoral votes, wins. This works fine when there are only two candidates since the winner will inevitably have more than 50% of the votes, meaning a majority of the voters chose that candidate. The problem comes when there's more than 2 candidates. With 3 or more candidates, it's quite possible that the candidate with the most votes doesn't capture over 50% of the vote, meaning a majority of the voters did not choose that candidate. For example, let's say we have 3 candidates. Candidate A and candidate B share similar political ideologies, but have different policy proposals and campaigning platforms. Candidate C's ideology is in opposition to both candidate A and B. Let's imagine the votes went like this:
Candidate A 25%
Candidate B 35%
Candidate C 40%
In our current system, candidate C would win even though 60% of the voters did not vote for that candidate. It's very possible that all the votes from candidate A would have gone to candidate B, which would have given candidate B 60% and the win. In past election cycles, those not wishing to vote Republican or Democrat are left with two options: do not vote in ideological protest or vote for the independent 3rd party candidate. In both cases, the voter will get pressured into voting Republican or Democrat because their non vote, or vote for a 3rd party, will mean a win for the opposition candidate. And while that is indeed a very valid argument, it's not very compelling. It turns the election into simply keeping the worst person out of office instead of letting the people choose the person they want and have it feel like it still makes a difference.
This is where instant runoffs come into play. Runoffs, from a conceptual standpoint, is a voting system that allows an election with more than 2 candidates play out until one candidate captures a majority. There are some variety to runoffs, but the one I'm advocating for is the instant runoff, or preferential, voting system. Here's how it works: At election time, instead of a voter simply selection one candidate, they would instead rank their candidates from 1st choice to last choice. If you had 3 candidates, you'd chose a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice.
After voting is complete, all 1st choice votes are tallied. If no candidate receives 50% or more of the vote, then it goes to an instant run off round. In this case, the lowest candidate's second place votes go to those respective candidates. If a 50% majority still isn't reached (in the possible case of 4 or more candidates), then another runoff takes place that will do the same thing until a candidate has a 50% majority.
Let's take the A, B, C example above and add some ranked voting to it...
Out of the people that made Candidate A their first choice, 80% of them made candidate B their second choice and 20% to Candidate C.
Out of the people that made Candidate B their first choice, 60% of them made candidate A their second choice and 40% to Candidate C.
Out of the people that made Candidate C their first choice, 67% of them made candidate A their second choice and 33% to Candidate C.
Remember the results:
Since C did not gain 50% majority, it goes to instant runoff where the lowest performing candidate's 2nd place votes are added to the other candidates. In this case, A is the lowest with 25%. Since 80% of those who voted for A made B their second choice, that means 20% (80% of 25) to B and 5% (20% of 25) to C. This would give the following totals:
B: 55% (35% + 20%)
C: 45% (40% + 5%)
B would then win the election, having recouped enough of A's votes to exceed 50%.
Naturally, it gets more complicated when there's more than 3 candidates, but the concept from a voter's perspective is fairly simple to follow. Let's there's 5 candidates and I rank them 1 through 5 and my first choice is the lowest on the first round. My #2 vote to that candidate now counts. But let's say there's another round of instant runoff voting and my #2 candidate is the lowest. Now my #3 vote to that candidate is now in effect since my first 2 candidates were eliminated. And this keeps going until one candidate gets the majority.
When it comes to general elections, this would allow people to vote for who they want, but still allow them to have "fallback" candidates should their person have a low vote count. When it comes to the presidential electoral college, the system becomes a bit trickier to visualize since you'd have to have a two tiered instant runoff system. The first tier, at the state level, counts the actual vote and does instant run off to determine a winner, who gets the electoral votes. The second tier though, is at the electoral college itself. If no candidate captures the majority of electoral votes, the lowest candidate with electoral votes will have to have the states they won re evaluated to see which remaining candidate would have won the state.
Understandably it's a bit complex for the average person to follow completely, but that's what would have to be done to have a presidential election follow instant run off rules. That or switch to a pure popular vote election.
In either case though, having Instant Runoffs mean candidates don't have to funnel through the Democrat and Republican party machines. They can run as their own party with their own rules and conventions. People can vote for who they want. Many of the circus act of the primary elections will evaporate. It would essentially break the power the two parties has over its constituency and ultimately Washington.
One argument against it is that the complexity means there's a higher possibility that someone could tamper with the votes, or that we have to rely computer programs to do all the runoffs and retallying, which means it's possible someone could "hack" the vote. There's one simple way to combat this: After all the votes are recorded, ALL the voting data (minus any personal info) gets uploaded to a publicly available server where all third party "watchdog" companies can take that data and process the results. The government would, of course, have their own calculation programs. However, there'd be independent organizations that would keep the government honest in their tallying.
Granted, there are indeed new challenges that would come along with moving to an instant runoff voting system for presidential elections. But, the way I see it, it's a much more robust system that allows a true "free market" of politics, which is something this country sorely needs.