Dating more than one candidate: A way to reform the U.S. electoral system

Elections should be more like Tinder, where you get to swipe right every time you like someone. It’s the way for a cleaner campaign and fairer outcome.

The current electoral system promotes polarization and badmouthing. Why do citizens of any country have to chose one candidate and oppose another? This isn’t high school football.

It would make more sense to have citizens rate (not even rank) on a rubric, like teachers do when grading assignments. To make things less complicated, we could reduce the evaluation to a simple pass or fail.

In other words, you get a list of candidates and start checking:

  • Candidate A: ☐ Yea · ☐ Nay · ☐ Present
  • Candidate B: ☐ Yea · ☐ Nay · ☐ Present
  • Candidate C: ☐ Yea · ☐ Nay · ☐ Present
  • Candidate D: ☐ Yea · ☐ Nay · ☐ Present
  • Candidate E: ☐ Yea · ☐ Nay · ☐ Present

Political scientists call this method approval voting. You either approve of the candidate or you don’t. You like ‘em, you say “Yea.” Don’t like ‘em, say “Nay.” You really just don’t care about the guy? Well, pick “Present” at least, so no one may alter your ballot later.

Chances are you like more than just one guy. This system is designed to let you express that. Yes, it’s like dating more than one person, and better yet, you don’t have to worry about making a final pick.

This is better for you. You get more choices (i.e., candidates) to begin with. And your elected official will be the nice guy that everybody—including their opposition—likes.

How so?

First, approval voting would decrease the risk of a split vote—that frustrating effect of third party contenders who “take away” votes from a major candidate. Remember, for instance, Ross Perot in 1992. President George H.W. Bush could’ve won another term in office had the oil tycoon kept out of the general election.

A system that does away with vote-splitting effectively removes the need for primary elections, too. Party identification becomes unimportant and the people get more and better choices in the general election.

Candidates who share similar views won’t be afraid of hurting each other. So you’ll vote for whom you like, not for whom you think has a better chance of winning.

Second, approval voting discourages a plurality winner, who’ll take office with less than half of the vote. While the new system will put more candidates on the ballot, the winner will likely carry the approval of a majority of voters.

Let’s say, both candidates B and D from the list get “Yeas” from more than 50 percent of the balloters. But Candidate D gets more “Yeas” than Candidate B. So D is the winner.

This is good for democracy. Making best pals with a strong few and ignoring the rest may get you far under the old system, but approval voting favors those who cater to a broader audience.

That means inevitably less negative ads. And more importantly, steering clear of divisive politics.

With Yea-Nay voting, citizens will approve of any candidate they like in the same way they thumb up content shared on social media. The “like me” system would change the way politicians seek votes: it’ll be about what one has to offer, not about why the other is a bad man — or not a man at all.

And it gets better yet. The third benefit of the Yea-Nay is in the “Nay” itself. While getting to approve a candidate may be important for the democratic process, locking the office door for another may be just as crucial to electing a free and accountable government.

Add the Yeas. Subtract the Nays. And the guy with the highest score will be your most consensual candidate.

Approval voting isn’t used on major national elections anywhere in the world. But it was once the way to elect high officials in enduring democracies, such as Athens and Venice. And only with the advent of universal suffrage and worries about literacy did the current plain system prevail over Yeas and Nays.

The Yea-Nay is imperfect. Yet it’s impractical if not impossible to design a system that will address all concerns for a fair and free election. This is one way that could improve democracy and give citizens a greater say in how they run what is theirs.

The more practical question is whether the United States could meet all the legal perks for Yeas and Nays by 2020. It’d be worth trying.

After all, electing a president or legislative representative is a hiring process. No prudent business owner would say, I want this guy and nobody else. The smart employer would consider more than one applicant.

And it’s in line with how we pick romantic partners nowadays. Why can’t we date more than one?

(Updated 2016-11-04)

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