Friday, March 25, 2011

Problems with the American Style of Voting

Having grown up in America, I just assumed that all countries in the world that were democratic had the same style of voting as we did.  In America, we have something called "First Past the Post Voting."  This style of voting has created the domination of a two-party system for our entire nation's history.  I did not learn of alternative voting methods and systems of government until I took a comparative world politics class in college.  I would love to see some innovation or change in America politics, but our federal system makes it nearly impossible to amend our Constitution.  Even so, because of the dominance of the two parties, neither support on the state or local level new ideas of voting that would challenge their dominance.

A guy named C. G. P. Grey made an awesome video explaining why so many people in America either do not care about politics or reluctantly vote but still resent only ever having two options to choose from.

On his blog he mentioned that if people liked or commented on his video, he would make more videos about politics in the animal kingdom.  So, check him out and bump his video.


Sandra said...

interesting repost. thanks

유미 said...

That was a pretty interesting video. Of course no system is perfect and there are disadvantages to a system that isn’t first passed the post. For starters, although FPTP can create a government that isn’t the will of a clear majority sometimes this can be a desirable result. It allows government to actually do things. Most government policy isn’t the “big issues” that we hear so much about. Most of it is pretty mundane. But without a workable government nothing at all gets done and may lead to more costly elections (Italy is an example of that, I think).

Also, FPTP tends to favor voters that are geographically concentrated. This can also be desirable because it gives regional representation. For example, in Iraq, the will of the majority Arab population could overwhelm the Kurdish population. But with FPTP Kurds will be better able to send politicians to their parliament and be a voting block on behalf of the Kurds. Or take Israel, where the country is treated as one electoral district. Under this system, if you get 1% of the votes, you get 1% of the seats. Since there is no regional representation, Arab-Israelis tend to lose out. Also, it turns extremist parties (who don’t get many votes) into major power-brokers for coalition governments, which also doesn’t seem so democratic.

The video is right that the system does tend to make people vote in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t. But we all do things we wouldn’t otherwise do: that doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of freedom. We should be guaranteed the right to vote, not the right to the result we want. As such, we might change the way we vote. Although FPTP does tend to create a two-party system, it doesn’t mean their policies are so rigid.

For example, in the US, where elections are at certain times (every 4 years for the president for example), there is less pressure for politicians to vote along party lines since a “defeat” for a given policy doesn’t signal an election (as it would in a parliamentary system such as Canada). That’s why someone like Ron Paul, who is a Republican, can be so openly against many Republican policies. Similarly, you can find Democrats that might share the economic policies of their party but are perhaps more socially conservative than their fellow party members.

Usually, as other parties grow, for example the Green Party, their policies are incorporated into the “plan” of the major parties and we see a decline in those small parties. So new ideas are still able to come in. FPTP isn’t perfect, but it does have it’s advantages.

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