Friday, October 23, 2009


I constantly hear stories about how well cellular phones work in other parts of the world versus the typical dropped calls and spotty broadband here in the US.  Part of the reason, I’m told, is the phenomenon of leapfrogging technology and that our ubiquitous copper-wire phone network slowed our jump to wireless. I think something like that is happening to our democracy, or more accurately, our democratic republic.

I live in NJ where we now have a competitive three way gubernatorial race winding down and it is extremely likely that our next governor will win with a narrow plurality, much less than a majority. Such is potentially the case with 3 way races in most elections in the US. But many parts of the world have learned this lesson and provide for a runoff in the case of a plurality. After all, if you were designing a democracy from scratch, wouldn’t a runoff law make perfect sense?

Under our system, the actual election is designed to be the “runoff” and the primary is how we narrow it down to a dichotomy. Unfortunately, we never fully accounted for the fact that not all candidates would want to slog it out in the primaries, and some would just keep their powder dry to run on third party tickets. (Remember Ross Perot and Ralph Nader?) I don’t have a problem with 3rd parties at all, provided we have a good runoff provision of some kind.

Another area where we may have been leapfrogged is in voter fraud. How is it that we know for certain there were fraudulent votes in Afghanistan but we have no idea what’s happening in, say, Chicago graveyards? We can’t even get a voter ID law passed in any state without endless court challenges. On what planet does this make sense? Has no one ever heard of ACORN or Mickey Mouse the Voter?  Why is it that we trust Diebold with our money at ATMs everywhere but not our electronic vote?  Why is it that absentee paper votes have mushroomed wherever electronic voting has taken hold?   

So I ask, without strong runoff laws and trustworthy fraud-free elections, are we not setting ourselves up for a very messy democratic future? Stay tuned…

BTW: Wikipedia has a very good explanation of the various “Two-Round” voting systems used around the world:

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