Elections and Election Reform

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Like many of the challenges in our country, there is widespread concern from citizens about the integrity of our elections. Millions of Americans are suspicious that fraud is dominating our elections.

If you ask county election supervisors, people who volunteer at the polls, secretaries of state, and other election and security officials—they will tell you the opposite. Our system is highly distributed. Every state makes their own rules about conducting elections, and every precinct operates largely independently. But 1 in 3 Americans think the 2020 elections were fraudulent enough to change the winner in the Presidential race [1]. It was even enough to inspire people to march on the U.S. Capitol building.

This is a huge problem. Because, perception is reality. If millions of people think the elections aren't fair (regardless of the truth), then it's extremely hard to move forward productively. The first and most important step in addressing our elections is for more people to get involved in understanding how they work and personally volunteering in the process.

Election Monitoring and Citizen Engagement

It's important for everyone to know how our elections are run. We do it in three steps:

  1. Registration
  2. Individual voting
  3. Counting and certification

Each of these is not easy, because we want elections to be secure but we also want them to be accessible. Every barrier we put up has the potential to make elections safer (such as voter ID laws), but also makes it more work for people to vote (such as voter ID laws.) So we have to create a lot of complexity in the system to try and make elections both as secure as possible and as accessible as possible.

Getting more people to volunteer as poll workers is a great start, but in order for citizens to have confidence in the election process, more people need to be involved in the entire process. That means going to local precinct meetings, getting to know the officials that are involved, and spending time learning about the electoral process.

Here's an easy way to think about it: imagine if elections were more like sports. Once in a while the refs make a bad call, but we're generally focused on the teams, the players, and the rules. And even when there are problems with the officials, we don't usually think of them as biased toward one team or the other.

Today, it doesn't feel like like the players (aka the candidates) and the teams (aka the political parties) are competing fairly, because so many people question the elections (aka the referees.) Which is one reason why we have so little faith in government.

Voting Systems

Almost everywhere in America, we use a voting system called “first-past-the-post.” That means you get to vote for just one candidate, and whichever candidate gets the most votes is the winner.

At first glance, this sounds like what we want. But if you have more than two candidates, that system breaks down pretty quickly. Imagine you think Alice is the best candidate, but Bob and Charlie are the main competitors. Right now, your vote for Alice won't contribute to the winner. And in fact if you think Charlie would be a terrible choice and Bob would be “just ok”, your best bet is to give up on Alice and vote for Bob to help make sure Charlie doesn't win.

Here's one video explaining this in more detail:

None of this is a new idea. Mathematicians and political scientists have had better voting systems in mind for hundreds of years [2]. Which kind of makes you wonder, “why aren't we doing this obvious thing that everyone knows is better and more democratic?”

That answer seems pretty obvious.

[1] According to an MIT study and a Monmouth University poll.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote

elections_and_election_reform.txt · Last modified: 2021/10/04 18:06 by rslaughter