Like a lot of Americans this year, when I fill out my absentee ballot later this month, I’ll be holding my nose as I do it. This really is the year of disappointing presidential candidates. On the side of conservatives, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts moderate who invented the very health care system he has promised to repeal. On the left, we find another major shortcoming. President Barack Obama passed a stimulus package and a signature health care overhaul, but has continued to perpetuate much of the previous administration’s failed policies.
It’s hard for me not to cast my ballot for Obama. He’s the only of the pair capable of winning who is close to my views (much like Romney for conservatives) but he really won’t do a lot of what I’d hope for in a Democratic candidate. My main obligation in voting for Obama really seems to be preventing a Romney presidency. Similarly, the conservatives have such a disdain for the president, they’ll elect someone they don’t like if it means beating someone they absolutely despise. Here we find ourselves in a paradox: we can vote and support the election of someone who we believe will do wrong, or we can refuse to vote and indirectly help someone who will, in our opinion, do even more wrong.
Damned if we do, slightly more damned if we don’t.
Why is this how we choose a president? So many people affiliated with both parties (not to mention the 40 percent or so of Americans in neither) are choosing between the lesser of two evils, not the candidate they really want. Because our elections are what are known as “first past the post” we elect every office individually, giving the seat to whomever garners the most votes. In this system, we get to vote for a specific person, but we also allow for the rise of a two-party monopoly that dominates virtually every vote. Not only is our presidential election between two people (and two parties), but so are all the others. In America, only two members of Congress don’t identify as Democrat or Republican, despite almost half of the country refusing either party label.
What our country needs is a new election system — one where people are properly represented and not forced into a dichotomy. A system called proportional representation may help guide us out of this mess. In proportional representation, people vote for parties rather than candidates. When the votes are tallied, the percentage of votes totaled for a certain party will be given roughly that percentage of seats in government. This gives a great deal of power to parties when choosing who will represent them. And if the party commits to a platform before the election and doesn’t stand by it, there are other parties — more than just two — that the voter can choose.
Proportional representation is certainly not perfect, as no system is. Although getting rid of “first past the post” for this new system takes away voting for an individual — something I’m sure many Americans relish — it would allow for a more diverse legislature that better represents our country’s diverse political views.
Imagine a legislature that doesn’t only offer two solutions to every problem: one where people owe no allegiance to massive organizations, but only to a smaller, more focused party’s platform. Voting proportionally couldn’t work for the presidency, given that there’s only one seat, but Congress breaking into several parties could inspire us to look beyond Democrats and Republicans for president. How nice would it be to see a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, a socialist and an independent all on stage, all with a legitimate shot at becoming our chief policymaker? I don’t mean to paint proportional representation as our country’s savior, because clearly any election reform we pass in this country will have its setbacks.
But hey, it’s a start, isn’t it? The two-party system has failed American voters, and it’s time for people to realize it. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, independents and party affiliates, we can all recognize that this isn’t working. People talk about the two-party system constantly, saying they’re sick of it. If so, perhaps it’s time to look at other alternatives.
James Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.