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wasted votes

In a mailing list to which I subscribe there is currently a discussion on US politics with the inevitable discussion of wasted votes. As I don’t want to waste my writing on this topic on a closed list I’m posting to my blog.

There is ongoing discussion on the topic of wasted votes. As a matter of principle, if a vote is considered to be wasted, then that should be considered a failure of the electoral system.

Having representatives for regions makes some sense in that a regional representative will have more interest in the region than a central government with no attachment to the region. I expect that representatives of regions were initially used because it was not feasible for people to vote for people that weren’t geographically local. Now there is no real requirement for geographical locality (only a very small fraction of the voters get to meet the person they are voting for anyway) but having a representative for a region still makes sense.

The requirement for a regional representative means that if you live in a region mostly filled with people who disagree with you then your vote won’t change much. For example I live in a strong Labor region so the REAL fight for the lower house seat (both state and federal) occurs in the Labor party room.

My vote for the senate counts as that is done on a state-wide basis. So of the two votes entered in one election one of them can be considered to not be wasted.

For the US system, the electoral college was developed in a time when it was impossible for the majority of voters to assess the presidential candidates, and it solved the requirements of those times reasonably well. Today it is quite easy to add up all the votes and use either a simple majority or the “Australian ballot”.

Currently there is some controversy over the actions of Senator Joe Lieberman who lost the support of his party and then immediately declared that he would stand as an independent candidate. I believe that this illustrates a failure of the electoral system. It should be possible to have multiple candidates from each party on the list. In the Australian system it is possible to do that, but as they are in random order on the voting cards no-one would be sure of which candidate of the winning party would get the seat unless there were actual reasons for preferring one candidate over another (which sadly often isn’t the case). This is good for voters (the minority of voters who care enough about internal party policies to prefer one party candidate over another should make the decision) but not good for the candidates who want a better chance of winning without actually demonstrating that they can represent their voters better than other candidates.

The Australian government system has nothing equivalent to the US presidential election. The prime minister is voted in by the members of parliament. So there is little chance of getting multiple candidates from one party contesting one position. For the US presidential election I think that the best thing to do would be to have an “Australian ballot” and permit multiple candidates from each party. For example you could have Bush and Cheney running as candidates for president with each promising to make the other their VP if they get elected. With the Australian ballot it wouldn’t matter if you put Bush and Cheney as the last two votes on your ticket, the order you use for them will still matter.

I think that with the US presidential and state governor elections there is enough knowledge of the candidates among the voters to make it worth-while for each of the major parties to run multiple candidates.

One of many advantages of having multiple candidates is that you might have real debates. If the main candidates from the two big parties have a set of strict rules for their debate that prevents any surprise then the people who are the less likely candidates from those parties (and who therefore have less to lose) could go for a no-holds-barred debate with a selection of random members of the public asking questions.

Of course none of this is likely to happen. Any serious change would have the potential to adversely affect at least one of the major parties, and any improvement would necessarily have a negative impact on most of the current politicians. Votes ARE being wasted, and most politicians seem to like it that way.

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