It's The Voting System, Stupid!

By Stuart H. Rodman
For as many as 50 million or so Americans it is accepted as truth that Republican Party candidates are each right about all the issues one hundred percent of the time.

Of course this should not come as much of a surprise since you can hear those exact same arguments at any given moment just by turning on your average run of the mill talk radio show talk jock.

Strangely enough though, another fifty million or so in America says the exact same thing about candidates that came from the Democratic Party, may it rest in peace.

But there are another hundred million of us or so that although they are adults barely ever vote. Since they have no other choice though, if they did vote they would have to be either Republicans or at one time at least, Democrats.

So, which half of the country is really right? This is a test.

Remember, before you can answer that question that either some drug addicted pseudo journalist hypocrite on the radio is wrong, or you first half to concede that half the people in this country are stupids and that therefore this country is one hell of a stupid place to live in.

Don't worry. We are not really as stupid as the rest of the world thinks we are. We are just made to look that way because we live in an outmoded, dysfunctional political system that is designed more to preserve itself that to serve our national interests.


The sickness that perpetuates electoral dysfunction is partisanship and our human susceptibility to it.

We are forced by our two-party only winner take all system, to defy reason and pretend that all solutions are just simply determined one way or another.

It's a form of learning disability really where normally intelligent homo sapiens are forced to suspend reason and conclude instead that one fellow human being puts his or her pants on one leg at a time while another, only because he or she is from another political party, doesn't. For them, anything can either taste great or must just be less filling.

In a nation of 250 million different individuals, before we can all be finally robbed of our independent right to think freely for ourselves, reason requires that there is more that just one or two opinions of what is a good plan and what is not.

Partisanship is born though when an entire nation of people is forced by a narrow political process to chose only one voice or another to express millions of differing opinions.

The natural outcome of partisanship, has been defined by Wikipedia as polarization,
In <>politics, polarization is the process by which the public opinion divides and goes to the extremes. It can also refer to when the extreme factions of a political party gain dominance in a party. In either case moderate voices often find that they have lost power. It may be one of the first steps to a <>civil war.
Ultimately, absent a rational process, partisanship forces increasing polarization.

As a nation divided, we become readily manipulated and if we don't destroy ourselves first, we will either slip like isolated tribesman towards a new feudalism brought on by those exploit our susceptibilities to manipulate us, or others will easily conquer us.


Whether or not you believe that the 2004 vote was cooked up in black boxes, as millions of Americans now do, the message that no one can deny, is that the horse is out of the barn and we can all see plain as day, exactly how fragile our electoral institutions really are.

Moa Tse Tung once wrote that true power comes from the barrel of a rifle. A more modern day correlate about electoral power might be that it's not about who votes, but about who counts the ballots.

While it is safe to say that historians from future generations will debate whether the 2004 American Presidential Election was won fair and square, if any of our elections ever really are in the first place, there is no doubt at all that more than 50 million Americans that voted for John Kerry feel that they have nothing to show for what in our country passes for record turnout.

Steven Hill, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, and author of "Fixing Elections", has a map of the Year 2000 Presidential vote broken out by county.

Counties won by Republican candidate George W. Bush in Nov. 2000 presidential election
Counties won by Democratic candidate Al Gore in November 2000 presidential election

The map shows how Al Gore carried the popular vote nationwide by over 500,000 votes and who except for the opinion of partisans (and arguably a lot of help from Chief Florida vote counter and Bush Campaign Chairperson Katherine Harris as well as Party friends in the Supreme Court), therefore had the moral right if not the legal one, to have become President.

In our polarized nation, as the winner, Gore would have governed in a nation where outside of a few populous enclaves he would have been persona non-gratis among a majority of his own countryman.

Although partisan Republicans still gloat over the way that election worked out despite the sentiments of the majority of voters, the rest of us can well imagine what those same few would be saying now if the numbers broke the other way, against them.

Of course it didn't happen that way though, arguably because in the Year 2000 Elections, Republicans controlled the turf upon which the most important votes were counted. Turf rights have changed little since then and so Mr. Hill's map suggests that they still have plenty of reason to feel fat and sassy.

Case in Point. In the Year 2004 Elections, Chief vote counter in the contentious Red State of Ohio, Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell just happens to be that State's Honorary Chairman of the Bush Re-election Campaign.

When asked on National Television if he thought that wasn't a conflict of interest, The Ohio Secretary Of State replied that since officials of the other party were allowed to report the vote tallies in the State's many voting districts why should there be a problem with him being an outspoken partisan.

Yeah. When it comes to who counts the vote, in Ohio at least, two wrongs, they believe, can make a right.

News watchers, your eyes and ears have not failed you.

Thanks to reporting, we all now know, elections officials can throw out piles of ballots THEY SAY are not worthy for counting, certify voting machines that create no audit trail to verify voter intention, explain away publicly acknowledged incidences where districts report vote tallies several hundred percent higher than the number of registered voters, and impose deadlines on counting that can result in tens of thousands of legitimate votes from being excluded in the election outcome. 

In our country as a whole, like in Banana Republics around the world, power doesn't have to come from the barrel of a gun; it's simply granted by whoever counts the votes.

And they can leave no trail. Osama bin Laden will likely be found, captured, and tried before an American Jury before the truth about the 2004 vote in Ohio is acknowledged before the American voter.

Republicans beware though. Mr. Hill's message cuts both ways.

"Don't forget" says Hill. "There are Democrats living in the RED areas, and Republicans living in the BLUE areas."

Because of our winner take all electoral system, your side rarely wins REPRESENTATION at local, state, or federal levels when you're on the other's turf.

And just as they did during the American Civil War, the more populous Blue States also produce most of the nation's tax revenue. Even with God on their side, those now in power won't be able to sustain a government with just the support of the Red States alone.

Hill adds, "With 'winner take all' only ONE side wins"

Or maybe we all just loose. When up to half the people who vote, get NOTHING for their effort, regardless of where they live, the idea of liberty and justice for all is just an empty anachronism.


Hijacking an election is not only about outright election fraud.

With just a two party only, winner take all system, the potential impact of nearly 50% of all votes cast is invalidated because none of votes cast for the loser are recognized, in terms of producing representation proportionate to the size of the actual votes cast against the winner. In the wake of the 2004 national elections, although more than 50 million citizens voted against them, the incoming administration claims they have a "mandate" from the voters.

But they don't.

In reality, there are nearly 200 million Americans of voting age, barely half of them bothered to show up at the poles and only 25% of those that could, were accredited as votes for George Bush.

The 2004 elections show that our failure to fully enfranchise our neighbors and other fellow countryman left us with election results that failed completely to address the issues of our time.

Our dysfunctional electoral system prohibited the small percentage of voters turning out to produce representatives capable of addressing male reproductive recklessness and its results on the unborn, our nation's ongoing willingness to exploit the resources of third world countries to provide obscene profits to transnational oil investors at the expense of everything else living, the breakdown of American families because of declining real incomes, job outsourcing and the other organized raiding and pillaging of the American Economy by the wealthy New Feudalists, who are also of course the only ones with the means necessary to control the limited choices we were actually presented with.

Steven Hill says, that in our winner take all electoral system, even if an election is not stolen outright, voters are robbed by a shortage of choices. Millions of votes are cast for not, because "Only the candidate who comes in first gets elected." And the rest of the votes may as well be flushed to the sewer.

But it doesn't work that way in most of the world's democracies. In other Western Democracies, a party or candidate doesn't need to come in first to win seats.

In America's Civil War of the ninteeth century, President Lincoln said that a house divided against itself will not stand.

In 21st Century America, the polarization brought on by our two party only winner take all electoral system silences the voices of our citizens and as Wikipedia reveals, polarization in politics "may be one of the first steps to a civil war."

So who cares about those Liberals in the Blue States anyway?

Joseph Curl of the Washington Times quotes a senior source in the Democratic Party, who raised the subject of secession on "The McLaughlin Group" during the weekend following the election.

As Curl reported in the 'Times, Lawrence O'Donnell, a veteran Democratic insider and now senior political analyst at MSNBC, who was an aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat, stated on the program that,

"The segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don't pay for the federal government."

"Ninety percent of the red states are welfare-client states of the federal government,"

Curl reports that in a telephone interview with "The McLaughlin Group", Mr. O'Donnell said the Red States that went to Mr. Bush "collect more from the federal government than they send in. New York and California, Connecticut -- the states that are blue are all the states that are paying for the bulk of everything this government does, from ... Social Security to everything else, and the people in those states [the Blue States] don't like what this government [of the Red States] is doing."

The Liberal Blue States represent more than half the nation's population and by far the lion's share of the wealth. It is easy to see how without the support of the those folks, trouble's coming every day for anyone trying to govern modern America, without them being on board, even for the nation's only remaining viable party.

You know whom they are, the one that counts the votes in the nation's Red counties.

While those in control must prefer a status quo that seems to have them on top in what is now a one party only system, those that put principle before partisanship cannot deny that an electoral system that discourages more voters than it entices is an insult to democracy that needs to be fixed.

For the rest in this country, the partisans who by nature don't care about true principles in the first place and those for whom organized resistance is probably a wholly owned subsidiary of their own political apparatus now, there must only be pride for the way things work.

Throughout or history though, in times of polarization, our country has witnessed the development of various secessionist movements. Since the 2004 Presidential elections, much of that sentiment has concentrated on the Blue States versus the Red.

Next time though, as it has been for them in the past, those in the Red States that need the rest of us the most but complain about us the loudest, may again be the ones pondering secession.


Of course things don't have to be black and white or blue or red.
What's broke can be fixed and a good place to start is by overhauling our two party only, "winner-take-all" system, which as Hill points out was inherited two centuries ago from Great Britain, and is now outdated.
We falsely equate our two party only system with the concept of democracy itself and probably treat our political status quo as if it was written into our oft-amended Constitution itself. In fact not only are those assumptions not correct, a two party only, winner take all system actually represses the political expression of large segments of our population, where tens of millions of people see a multitude of viable ways to solve social problems, not just only one way or another, based on what one special interests in one political party or the other chooses to dictate to us.
Fact is, in a country allegedly governed for the people and by the people, our two party only, winner take all system leaves significant blocs of voters unrepresented. In contrast to the high voter turnout routinely experienced in other western democracies, under our "winner-take-all" system votes going to a losing candidate are wasted, resulting in no representation, even if that candidate garners nearly half of the vote.

The most obvious yardstick of voter enthusiasm is turnout. If people are confident that their vote will count they tend to turn out. If the available candidates don't reflect the views of potential voters, the voters become apathetic or skeptical. It should come as no surprise then, given our two party only, winner take all electoral system, as Hill points out, that,

"Among the 21 democracies in Western Europe and North America, the United States is next to last in voter turnout, with only 36% participating in the 1994 Congressional elections, and only 55% in the 1992 presidential election. In PR countries (those that use Proportional Representation), voter turnout generally runs 70-90%!"

For these reasons, Western countries including Germany, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Brazil, Greece, Italy, Austria and many others have rejected the Great Britain/U.S. style "winner take all" system, and as Hill points out "use some version of the more modern proportional representation system."

Hill believes that America needs to enfranchise more voters by enabling elections to reflect voter intention in proportion to the actual votes cast, all of them, much as they already do in most other western democracies. Hill explains how it can work,

"Let's say, for example, there are ten legislative seats to be filled: a party or independent candidate would need ten percent of all votes to gain a seat. Thus, if a party receives 50% of the vote, they would be awarded 5 out of the 10 seats; if they receive 30% of the vote they would get 3 seats; 10% gets one seat and so on"

"A party or candidate need not come in first to win seats," says Hill.

In a two party only, winner take all system like ours, where the myth of system superiority is perpetuated by the party operatives and the entrenched special interests that depend upon them, only the independently designated party representative can win, whether he or she really reflects your views or not. As a result voters complain that they are often forced to choose between the "lesser of evils" or a candidate that stands the best chance of beating someone that they like even less.

Candidates that actually represent the views of nearly half the country's potential voters simply aren't allowed in the election. Powerful party apparatus keeps them out unless they are deemed to have the right stuff to advance the agenda of party insiders motivated by self-preservation above all else. Hill asserts,

"Voters sense this, and so we often do not vote for a candidate we like, but rather the one who realistically stands the best chance of winning. Or, all too often, we don't bother to vote at all."

In contrast, most of the world's major democracies employ a different type of electoral system called obviously enough, Proportional Representation (PR). Hill says,

"The U.S.-style winner take all system primarily uses single seat district races, where the candidate with the most votes wins. Votes going to a losing candidate are wasted, even if that candidate garners 49.99% of the popular vote in a two-person race. Under PR, legislative seats are allocated from multi-seat, at-large districts in proportion to the number of votes received by political parties or candidates."

Everyone gets something. But maybe you like things just the way they are.

Sorry. At least 50 million American's don't like the way things are and although most professional party operatives are gambling that we will soon forget and start worrying about the Super Bowl or what make of SUV we can buy next year, others fell that we have a problem that just won't go away and can't be ignored any longer

For those that have had enough of the same tired charades each time we are allowed to exercise what we have been told is our right to choose our government there is much untapped potential in the promise of empowering the grass-roots, you know, our friends, neighbors, and children, the new "Silent Majority" in America.

No constitutional amendments are required to fix things. Hill and other experts agree,

"All that is required is a change in the applicable laws, either by voter initiative or by act of the legislature."

Each state's U.S. House delegation, state legislature, city councils, and even the electors for the Electoral College, can be elected by PR. Some already are.

In a country of 250 million, America's outmoded and dysfunctional electoral system is powered by just two elite governing parties, or maybe just one two headed monolith. Cynical Party Insiders determine what slogans will sell the best with which demographic on any given day and they decide which front men or women they will offer to voters as pitchmen posing as the only true champion.

With the help of our media, radio talk show partisans and our own neglect, a broken and corrupted electoral system has become a sacred cow.

Although after each election, half the nation complains about it, and complain about it often, like the weather, we don't think anything can be done about it. Hill offers a different analogy,

"A voting system is to a democracy like an engine is to a car. You can have a gorgeous exterior, with shiny gold chrome and a crushed velvet interior, but if your engine is a clunker your car won't go very far and won't be worth much."

Unfortunately, the winner take all voting system, by any objective standards of democratic fairness and representation, is a lemon.


Imagine going into a grocery store and finding out that you can only buy one approved food or another. There are no shelves stocked with alternatives. People are lined up at the check out stands with a can of the approved soup and a loaf the approved bread.

You'd think you were back in the USSR.

When America votes for a President though that's the choice we are given. We may like the way one candidate sounds on one issue but disagree with the same person for the way he or she sounds on another.

No matter. We are going to take both the baby and the bathwater. We have to. There is no other choice. It's "the lesser of two evils" or what Hill says is an equally common outcome in America, no vote at all.

We have been told from our earliest education that absolute power corrupts absolutely and yet even armed with that knowledge we have blissfully allowed those absolute powers to be concentrated in the hands of just one political party or in just one other.

Thinking about a third party alternative that's more than just a spoiler?


Hill points to the futility of doing that unless we first change or electoral system to give those candidates a chance to be nurtured:

"Present and past results illustrate the rule about winner take all voting systems: it is nearly impossible for third party or minority candidates to win a seat. By virtue of being a minority, such candidates simply cannot attract a majority of votes."

Not even for dogcatcher.

Let's face it though, we all put our pants on one leg at a time and no on person or party has a lock on what's true or what is not. Our very country was designed by innovation and since we are living in an Age of Information that provides more than just one answer on demand and that requires choices just to remain competitive, no good idea should be ignored and no vote should be left behind.

Fixing our system isn't something we have to do though. Instead, we can continue investing in a fragile and dysfunctional electoral system that can be easily hijacked and turns off more of our own citizens than it energizes.

For at least a brief moment after each election, one half of our country or the other realizes that the present System is perpetuated by just two failed political parties that we all know are corrupted and who continue to produce candidates that we know to be liars, pander to us in sheep's clothing although we later learn that they are actually with the wolves, are beholden to others we don't really like, and enact policies that we never authorized them to pursue.

Proportionate Representation will bring choice to the ballot where there now is none, will bring disenfranchised voters back to the ballot booth, and will reverse the stranglehold that our entrenched self-perpetuating politicians have on the promise of democracy in America.

In the land where we used to pledge our allegiance to the promise of liberty and justice for all, those currently in control argue that we should stick with the status quo though because its good enough and because we can't trust our own neighbors to vote for whomever they like, let alone give them the same liberty or justice that we claim for ourselves.

After all, some of them don't talk like us, they don't listen to the same music as we do, and some don't even look like us. They could be Liberals.

Guess what though. Maybe you should start making friends with them anyway.

The dirty little secret that those that use fear and ignorance to manipulate you with aren't telling you, is that it is you that is about to become the minority.

What goes around comes around.

In about the Year 2050 the White Anglo Christian will be the minority in this country, maybe sooner.

Now that you have been told, consider Bob Dylan's question of forty years ago, "How does it feel?"

You probably won't need another 40 years to know the answer.

Let's just let them vote. Do us all a favor.


Fixing Elections

Proportional Representation, Frequently Asked Questions

The Center for Voting and Democracy




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