Voting system questioned in wake of close election
Donald Trump has won the 2016 presidential election but millions of people aren’t ready to throw in the towel and accept that fact just yet. Many are demanding changes to be made through anti-Trump demonstrations that are popping up across the country and a petition – that is spreading like wildfire across the internet – is demanding the Electoral College make Hillary Clinton president on Dec. 19.
The petition, which has 3,320,518 signatures by the time of this writing, was created by Elijah Berg is asking that the Electoral College “ignore their state’s votes,” and instead cast their ballots for Clinton, who won the popular vote. This along with thousands of people stating their dislikes for Trump has raised many to questions to whether the current method of electing the U.S. president is still the best possible approach.
Presidential candidate Jill Stein has suggested that the U.S. should get rid of the current election process and adopt a ranked-choice voting system – where voters can rank the candidates of their choice from first to last for a single office – and elect officials by a majority vote without the need for a separate run-off election. Or the popular vote system – where Clinton has a lead over Trump by more than 200,000 votes – whereby the candidate with the most votes from all 50 states is wins.
“The solution to a compromised and sick democracy is not less democracy, we need more voices and choices, we need ranked-choice voting so that you’re not confined to two toxic parties and two predatory candidates that the American public dislikes and distrusts,” said Stein, the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate, in a recent interview with Al Jazeera. “The moment we create Ranked-choice voting we will have a multi-party democracy.
Steve Benen, a producer for MSNBC said in a recent article that under the current system, third-party candidates like Stein and Gary Johnson could have hypothetically handed the election to Trump, despite Clinton winning the popular vote.
“We had an election … that wasn’t a national popular vote election,” said Patrick Rosenstiel, senior consultant to National Popular Vote. “The problem we are trying to fix is the problem that happens in every election, we are working to get the candidate with the most popular vote in all 50 states, which is the only way to right side the influence of battleground voters and make every voter relevant in California or every voter in North Dakota, relevant in every election.”
Rosenstiel said that part of the problem with the presidential election is that “two thirds,” of the campaign only occurred in six states and 94 percent of the campaign occurred in 12 states, which leaves many states and voters primarily ignored.
National Popular Vote has also been pushing for an interstate compact – where states agree to award all their electoral votes to the candidate that has the overall popular vote in all 50 states – and bills under the same name to “guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes.”
FairVote, a group that advocates RCV believes that the election results could have been different if the voting system was shifted to prioritize the majority vote over the electoral vote.
“I cannot say for sure if RCV would have changed the results of the election,” said Michelle Whittaker, communications director at FairVote. “But I think that you would see more (candidate) engagement with voters to really understand where they stand.” Which in turn could have changed the way voters look at the candidates that are before them.
RCV is currently used in 11 cities across the U.S. including four Bay Area cities – San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro, and Berkeley – and the state of Maine; that on Nov. 8 voters passed into law, the implementation of RCV to be used in all of Maines state and federal elections.
San Francisco saw the introduction of RCV as an amendment to the City Charter in 2002 and according to the San Francisco Department of Elections website has been used in every city election since its first official use in 2004.
“Rank-choice voting was introduced as a reaction to a lot of people running for a particular seat (in San Francisco),” said Pedro Hernandez, deputy director of FairVote California. “What you saw back then was conversations about the budget value and about election being as diverse as possible.”
San Francisco’s District 1, 7, 9 and 11 supervisorial races utilized the RCV system, where a voter’s first choice is counted then if a candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, they win the election. If no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the lowest ranking is eliminated. This process repeats itself until there is a majority vote winner and a candidate is elected.
“There is a lot of interest from across the aisle as to why RCV would be a preferable system,” Hernandez said. “Because you have a plurality winner and you want to have a majority candidate.”
Jason McDaniel, associate professor of political science at SF State said that RCV does have some downsides and is known to cause a small percentage people not to vote, due to the process being more complicated.
“I see a lot of push for it,” McDaniel said. “But, it is more complicated for some voters which has led to more ballot errors.”
McDaniel said that errors are sometimes caused by confusion or by filling out the RCV ballot incorrectly. This confusion can sometimes lead to over-voting – where someone votes for more than the maximum number of selections allowed in an election – which then invalidates the ballot altogether.
According to an article from the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, data from the 2011 election showed that 1.2 percent of voters cast an over-vote. Despite being a small number, the rate is said to be higher than in a typical “vote-for-one” election.
In a press release from the San Francisco Department of Elections as of Nov. 9 the department must still “review and tabulate more than 114,000 ballots” from general election.
“The ballots themselves are counted much like others,” McDaniel said, in an email. “But the process of tallying and allocating second and third choices can take considerable time.”
There is no definite answer to whether RCV or a popular vote would work on a national level, or if it would have changed the outcome of the recent election. But according to an article from FairVote, if RVC was used during the primary elections Marco Rubio would have beaten Trump. Under the popular vote however, Trump and Clinton both led in votes compared to their runner-ups, which would have left the GOP and Democratic primary elections with the same result.
“Right now four out of five voters are almost ignored in every presidential election,” Rosenstiel said.”We (National Popular Vote) are are doing all the work necessary to make 2016 the last time we suffer under the current system, where voters in battleground states are far more important than the rest of us.”