Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fixing a Broken System

At WTBP, we see a broken political system in the U.S. and identify key villains - not the worst actors, but those with good intentions (presumably), but lacking in the will to act to effect change. Taking the existing political structure of the U.S. as a given, we find that (1) moderate Republicans who remain faithful to their party caucus in Congress -no matter what happens- and (2) the popular mainstream press who stick to the broken "balanced" model are the two main culprits. Applying pressure to
(1) and(2) to change their ways represents the path of least resistance to meaningful reform.

Making institutional reform happen is difficult because a gridlocked legislature is not likely to reform itself. A minority party that benefits from outsized power and even control of Congress is not likely to seek democratic reforms. These challenges have prompted interest in remedies that do not require monumental laws that may never be passed.

In recent years, interest in electoral reforms has surged. Unfortunately, some creative proposals seem to be driven more by what can be done rather than what needs to be done.

The Center for Election Science (CES) does just that. The CES sees the main problem as the voting method, specifically, voter preference can only be expressed by selecting a single candidate. The CES proposed solution is "approval voting", that is, the voter can pull the lever for all candidates the voter likes. CES invokes year 2000 for their example. The result would be that Nader voters would have exercised two votes in many cases - one for Nader, their "honest favorite" and one for Gore, to register the preference of Gore over Bush. Year 2000 is not a great example of a fix, because Nader had such a small following.Any vote for Nader was clearly a protest vote or a mistake brought about by confusion over the butterfly ballot. People have to get used to the idea that when you vote you do it to affect the outcome of an election. If you are trying to feel good, there are plenty of other avenues.

California has an intriguing Top-Two Primary System for most offices.  The primary field is reduced by vote to two candidates regardless of party. This is worth exploring in other States that do not have it. California also operates an independent redistricting commission to eliminate gerrymandering. The solution to gerrymandering is not simple. The math behind voter preference and drawing legislative districts show us that solving some problems with any system creates others. (re: social choice see Arrow's Impossibility Theorem and Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem.)

The neuroscientist Sam Wang has developed a beta tool to statistically test for partisan gerrymandering.

The California efforts and the objective tool to measure extent of partisanship in creating districts show promise. But the CES proposals would require enormous effort to enact, and do not directly or realistically combat the problems with our democratic system.

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