The results of winner-take-all voting systems often result in either partisan gridlock or decision makers that fail to represent its population. Most Americans report being disappointed that our elections systems lead us to only two choices, and frequently it's difficult to be truly happy with either one of these choices. The two-party system depresses participation and creates forced choices while more competitive races can grant voters options outside of the two major parties.
Dr. Powell is advocating we tally the votes for electors for United States President and (a) allocate those electors to three parties (if there are three), based on an "over a quota" basis, or (b) allocate a proportional number of Electoral College votes based on the results of the two largest vote-earners. This protocol applies the principle of proportional allocation to our election results.
Maybe, but not likely. A central concern of the two-party system and the current winner-take-all system is it forces party affiliation when many of the views on issues by people within the same party are only marginally compatible (see Duverger). On a national level, we see that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in the same party as Colin Peterson or Joe Manchin. Both are welcome in the party – we’re a big tent and the premise of their use of government, respect for rights of people, and economic principles are similar; still, many of their priorities are divergent. The same big tent acceptance and diversity of priorities occurs in the Republican party, right?
While the use of proportional allocation of the electoral college vote in North Dakota won’t eliminate the dominance of the two-party national system, using it for this one race could be interesting. It could solidify the ability of one party to prove its dominance, or it could allow some citizens who are underrepresented in our current system to have an attainable outlet to demonstrate their discontent with our current political condition.
Any taxpayer cost associated with this is nil or minimal. Already printed ballots will be processed through already purchased counting machines which will produce counts and ratios of votes recorded in already established tables and public-facing software. The State Canvassing Board and its constituent county boards will need to accept a new method of counting and notifying party leaders of the protocols related to allocation, such that the state-level party leaders can prepare their electors. The cost in these adjusted protocols is minimal.
From a voter perspective, nothing will change. One person / one vote, and a voter's ballot will probably look the same both before and after this initiative is adopted.
Consider this: two states currently grant their electoral vote by congressional district (CD), and both of those CDs broke ‘against’ their state in the last presidential election.
Millions of dollars were spent in Bangor, Maine to ensure that Maine CD-2 went for President Trump, and millions of dollars were spent in Omaha to encourage voters in Nebraska CD-2 to vote for candidate Joe Biden. The candidates flew in to Bangor and Omaha in the last two weeks of the campaign and campaigned in those cities because of how important that one break-away electoral college vote could have been. While the final tally had a difference of more than 70 electoral college votes, there were models where the result would be tied or separated by single digits, making clipping off this one-electoral college vote from the rest of their respective states was worth the cost to the two national campaigns.
North Dakota has three electoral votes and, obviously, only one congressional district. Instead of ‘by congressional district,’ we could allocate those three electoral votes in a way that encourages competition (which is good in a democracy) and brings outside political attention (yes, candidates for the office of President would have to come here, instead of ignoring us for other, competitive locations).
Let's say the vote is 30-68-2 (D/R/L), then the winning party gets all three electors. Functionally, if one party gets more than 2/3 of the votes, every mathematical formula logically awards all three votes to that party. However, if the vote is 34-64-2, this scenario could (and I argue should) award one elector to one party and the second party gets two electors. This is more fair. Full stop.
There are permutations to what could also occur if the dominant party is less than 2/3. Imagine if, in this scheme, the returns were something like 44 R, 30 D and 26 L, in a world where Libertarians (or a different third party) broke from their forced partner party. During the law-making process, we would need to have clear guidance on where the boundaries lie for a three-way race rather than a two-way. I believe the quota should be 20% + 1 vote, but getting lost on the quota point is not immediately necessary as we discuss the concept.
We'll need to have rules, keeping an eye on the central advantage to changing the system - competition of ideas while also encouraging outside Presidential campaigns to visit, solicit a list of our needs, or spend campaign dollars in North Dakota. North Dakota is, regrettably, a forgotten entity in our presidential elections, because of the winner-take-all allocation we've adopted. By changing our allocation decision, national parties will have to respond to our concerns, candidates or their high-level surrogates will visit the state and interact with North Dakotans. From a financial consideration, outside money attached to these campaigns will flow to the state. Competition is the goal because of the externalities this competition delivers.
They are. These aren't: in the last three Presidential elections, North Dakota went 59-39-2; 63-27-6 (and about 3% other); and 65-32-3.
Before we use those values exactly, I also want to talk about the possibility (and honestly, this could be both exciting and part of a promising democracy) of a third party doing really well.
Yep. So back to possible scenarios.
If the results of a Presidential election have North Dakotans voting such that three parties get over 20% of votes, then the EC split should be 1 – 1 – 1. 20% is a stretch goal for a third party, and I assert a premise that diversity of ideas on the ballot is a good thing and should be encouraged. A higher number, such as 25% each, is actually a low performance value for the two dominant parties but is probably unachievable for a third party, at least now and for the foreseeable future. However, setting a quota value in the 20% range that is operationalized only when three parties attain this vote level demonstrates and generates choice and the principle of greater choice on our ballots.
Proposal Part One: if three parties exceed 20%* of the popular vote for the US Presidential electors, then each of those three parties is awarded one Electoral College vote.
Note: it's possible to set the quota value higher or lower. I'd have a hard time going under *16.5% + 1 vote, or 1/6 of the vote; it's plausible to go as high as 25%, because it's mathematically impossible for there to be more than three exceeding 25%.
Yes, this means a party that earns 20.01% (or crosses the quota line, whatever line is established) gets as many EC votes as a party that earns 46% or 48%, but there are only three ECs available and rewarding a party that hits the quota enforces the principle that citizens deserve more choices. This system promotes competition of ideas, and in a democracy that's a good thing.
At the other end of this, what if only one party crosses the threshold (whether that threshold is 16.6% or 20% or 22% or 25%)? Answer: the winning party should get all three EC votes. That kind of win clearly demonstrates the will of the people.
Proposal Part Two: if only one party receives 20%* of the popular vote for the US Presidential elector, that party is awarded all three Electoral College votes.
A two-party split of the popular vote is, of course, the most likely scenario for the foreseeable future. By reviewing the numbers above, the goal must be to identify where the line between a 3-0 and a 2-1 allocation should be drawn.
Worst Democratic Party performance in last three presidential elections is 27%. I’ll assert 27% should not qualify for an EC vote. It isn't 1/3 in an absolute way, and it's less than half of the percentage of total votes Republicans earned in the same cycle. Best Republican performance in last three cycles is 65%, and as noted above, because it is less than two-thirds that 65% should not automatically get all three ECVs. In most cases it will once the rest of the math is worked out, but if 65% reflects the best performance and half of that is 32.5%, we now have a line for the Democrats to hit. As we noted earlier, the Democratic presidential candidates hit 39% in 2012 and 32% in 2020, so in the last it's probable we go 2-1, 3-0, and likely 3-0 depending where we draw the line.
Proposal Part Three: if only two parties exceed (the three-way threshold of) 20% of the vote for US President, and if and only if party B has 50% of the total votes that party A earns, then party A gets two EC vote and party B is awarded one EC vote. Votes for third party or candidates other than the two major candidates are excluded from the calculation of this ratio. If party B does not gather 50% of the votes of party A, then party A receives all three EC Votes.
Putting North Dakota into a situation where we are in play in a Presidential election benefits our state, benefits our ability to influence national politics, and brings out-of-state campaigning dollars to benefit local companies. These are outcomes we should seek.
Copyright © 2023 Jeffrey Powell for Secretary of State - All Rights Reserved.