Bad elections will determine who controls Congress
If you follow politics, you may have been watching the GOP primary in Pennsylvania, a race that was touted as a strength test for President Trump’s endorsement. It currently is in the midst of a recount. According to preliminary results, Dr. Mehmet Oz led Dave McCormick by less than 2,000 votes, having received just 31.3 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates.
Take a step back from those results. That means that 68.7% of voters who went to the polls chose someone other than Dr. Oz as their preferred candidate. Now look at those results and ask if the election outcome tells the whole story?
Unfortunately, these results are not unique — particularly when it comes to the competitive districts that will determine which party controls Congress after the November election.
Voters in five states recently went to the polls to select their candidates for the November general election; some called it the first “Super Tuesday” of the 2022 cycle.
While the pundits debate the implication of the results for the different wings of each party and assess the power of certain political endorsements, one thing should be clear: Bad elections will continue to have an impact on our political future.
What do I mean by ‘bad election’? Before you worry, I am not speaking about voter fraud or any other conspiracy theory. I’m talking about vote splitting and how our choose-one voting method leaves the electorate with options that don’t reflect the wishes of the majority. Too often, our general election candidates lack simple majority support from their own party, let alone the whole district or state.
Think back to the crowded presidential primaries in 2016 and 2020. Both parties had a nationwide primary in which more than 15 mostly similar candidates competed for your single vote. Because of our choose-one voting system, voters made their choice based on a myriad of factors that may or may not have had anything to do with what they wanted. In 2020, electability was the phrase we all heard a lot.
Choose-one voting gave us Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Vote splitting goes well beyond federal offices, impacting American elections at every level, and the results are the same: dissatisfaction and division.
In the most recent “Super Tuesday” election, all parties had the chance to field candidates for 50 federal seats. (five U.S. Senate Seats and 45 House seats). Of those, 30 percent of the contests included a vote split on one or both sides of the aisle. A vote split refers to an election in which no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.
Overall in the 2022 primary season, we’ve already seen 36 vote splits in the 10 states to hold their primary.
In North Carolina, the seventh Congressional District leans Republican but is expected to be competitive in November. On the Democratic side, four candidates fought a close race, with the winner gathering just 31.2 percent of the vote according to the preliminary result. Again, the majority voted against the “winner.”
Likewise in Oregon’s new sixth Congressional District, both parties split the vote. Democratic candidate Andrea Salinas led a nine-candidate field with less than 38 percent of the vote, and Republican Mike Erickson leads a seven-candidate Republican field with less than 35 percent of the vote.
In both cases, the electorate in these competitive districts will be left to choose between two candidates who lack the majority support of the primary electorate. Our elections fail to demonstrate what the country wants. This will happen in districts of all types across the country at every level this year.
Vote splitting has become the topic of reform thanks to organizations like mine — The Center for Election Science — where we work to give voters more choice through approval voting. Voters in Fargo, N.D., and St. Louis, Mo., are using approval voting, which allows the voter to select all the candidates they like on their ballot. If you like five candidates, all five can get your vote.
This simple change, which is free and easy to implement, will empower voters to choose all the people they support and yield election results that tell the whole story. When faced with approval voting, politicians know that the most popular candidate actually wins, so they campaign to everyone — not just their niche supporters.
Unlike other reforms, approval voting doesn’t involve arduous counting processes and endless tabulations, just simple addition. The candidate with the most approval wins. Recent polling shows that Americans of all political stripes like approval voting.
As the primaries unfold in the coming months, watch how many contests end with “winners” who lack majority support, and remember that we don’t need to rely on bad elections forever.
Mike Piel is the director of philanthropy at the Center for Election Science.
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