The way we have voted for people who hold public office in our country has changed many times over the past 246 years, since the signing of our Great Declaration of Independence. Our form of government changed from a “Confederation of States” under the Articles of Confederation—which had a unicameral legislature and a very weak chief executive, that proved to be insufficient for the needs of the people or the Republic, to our Federalist system under our Constitution with its’ 7 original Articles that was ratified in 1788 and the Bill of Rights—the First 10 Amendments that were ratified in September of 1789. The structure of our judicial system was then ill defined. The State Legislatures elected electors who would vote for President and Vice President with each elector being given two votes. The 12th Amendment in 1804 changed that process. Ties were to then be decided in the House of Representatives where each State got one vote.
For the first time in our country’s history in 1800 emerging political caucuses nominated candidates for President and Vice President. The Democratic Republicans nominated Thomas Jefferson and Arron Burr. The Federalist Party nominated John Adams and Charles Pinckney. All four candidates were running against each other. The person with the most votes would become President and the person with the second most votes would become Vice President. Theoretically there could be two candidates from different parties winning the vote for President and Vice President. In 1796 before the parties decided the candidates in caucuses, John Adams (Federalist) received more votes than the second-place vote getter, Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican). Adams became President and Jefferson became Vice President. This hybrid earlier form of “rank choice voting” didn’t work back then and it won’t work today.
At the end of one of the most bitter campaigns in our country’s history in which Jefferson and Burr had each received 73 electoral votes, and Adams received 65 and Pinckney 63, the election was tied. The election was finally decided on the 35th ballot in the House of Representatives where each State was given one vote. Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist he, strongly armed several of his Federalist friends to finally vote for Jefferson giving “TJ” the win. Burr became VP.
Though not the form of “ranked choice” balloting we are being presented with in Idaho, we can see the problem when only a small number of people (from the opposite party) can cross over or influence members of the rival party to vote for a candidate that is not in their own party, and who may in fact represent a “faction” very different from the main stream ideas of candidates who may be at the front of the line amongst the party faithful. Alexander Hamilton despised Jefferson, but he hated Burr.
Elections for public office should be won and lost by citizens voting for candidates they like, not by having political operatives or lobbyists encouraging citizens to vote negatively for candidates that may later prove to be less problematic in a general election or in a vote of The Electoral College or in The House of Representatives.
This problem becomes even more acute for political parties in today’s world, when one third of the electorate is not affiliated with either or any party, or when small numbers of people are casting a ballot—like in State legislative district elections, or in referendums where special interests that are well monied can easily seize the political narrative of an issue. When any politician can gin up enough money—many times from out of State or out of District sources, an election—and primary elections are the most problematic and subject to the most corruption from outside influences, then the will of the people may take a back seat.
Triangulation—where two people running against a third candidate can together win a plurality of the vote or even a majority—think of two candidates each winning 30% of the vote (60%of the total vote), still losing to a candidate who receives only 40% of the vote, is just as problematic. I do not believe that Bill Clinton could have won his first Presidential election if it had not been for Ross Perot taking a significant proportion of the Republican vote away from George Bush. Several recent presidential elections have been won by a person receiving less than a majority of the vote. Abraham Lincoln won his first Presidential election with less than a majority of the vote.
In both ranked voting and with the process of triangulation, the process and political strategy can circumvent the will of the people. Both situations can be leveraged by lobbyists, PACS, and especially by establishment incumbent politicians with close ties to outside interests with money. These are the very groups that have tainted the political process in our state for over 30 years. The sons and daughters, many legacy politicians who are now supporting “ranked voting” are the same politicians who supported Medicaid Expansion and have placed future State budgets in jeopardy should the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage change by even a couple of percentage points. The everyday citizens and employers who are paying ever increasing taxes and ever-increasing health insurance premiums are who suffer. The special interests like The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), The Idaho Hospital-Medical Association (IHA/IMA), and the Idaho Education Association (IEA) will be the beneficiaries of a system that can circumvent the party structures and primary elections. These are the very groups and people that finance or have financed the elections of many of the people on the list for the new “rank choice” voting referendum, and who supported Take Back Idaho in the intra-party campaign against Raul Labrador.
I believe we should have closed primaries and require that if a candidate doesn’t win a majority of the vote, a runoff—again in a closed primary, be continued between the top two candidates. With a runoff between only two candidates, the person with the most votes in the second “go round” should be the winner (plurality or majority) of the vote. Triangulation and “ranked voting” dilution are limited in this type of a scenario.
I believe for Presidential elections that the Electoral College and if need be, the House of Representatives are both good ways of making sure factions are not able to take advantage of the process.
In the end, no system is perfect, but we should limit the temptation to use “process” and political shenanigans from gaining control of our elections. The will of “We the People” should be given preference to the monied and well lobbied special interests that are experts at controlling the process and that today are supporting “rank choice voting” in our State.