Ignoring Tired Pleas from the
By Matt Gonzalez
Democrats succeeded in getting
Greens and Independents to vote for John Kerry, but will we be asked to do
the same thing four years from now?
Although Democrats didn’t
elect John Kerry on November 2, they did get something they wanted badly.
They convinced Greens, Independents, and progressive Democrats to support
a candidate who did not represent their beliefs about issues like the war
in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the WTO. The Democratic Party successfully
scared voters with the specter of another “spoiled” outcome like 2000.
Hundreds of thousands of
Americans were disenfranchised by abandoning candidates who truly
represented their values in exchange for John Kerry. Only “anybody but
Bush” did not even win in the end, and progressives are left wondering if
our votes could have been better cast. And if we will be asked to repeat
the same futile exercise in four years.
The Democratic Party’s
strategy is apparently to hope it will be able to talk progressives out of
voting for their chosen candidates every election cycle. This is hardly a
democratic — or practical — solution. But since Ralph Nader didn’t cost
them the election this time around, their “solution” appears to have
worked out just fine. And, unfortunately, very little post-election
punditry has focused on the need for more democratic elections.
But are Democrats — who went
to great lengths to silence third party candidates this year — willing to
reform elections so we don’t face the same quandary four years from now?
Sadly, I predict they won’t.
Democrats will likely ignore the necessity of updating the antiquated
two-party system because they don’t perceive it to be in the party’s
long-term interest to do so. Although Democrats are quick to invoke
Nader’s role in 2000, they fail to mention how Ross Perot’s campaign in
1992 allowed Bill Clinton — who ended up with just 43% of the vote — to
ascend to the presidency. The Democratic Party understands how the
existing system, although not always kind to its candidates, does in fact
reward it with power roughly half of the time.
Why should they bother with
election reform that might actually allow a multi-party system to emerge?
Why help the Green Party? Isn’t it better for Democrats to simply accept
the results this year and look forward to a future in which power is
shared with only one other party?
So what are progressive voters
to do? For starters, we should pledge that we are not going to delay our
efforts to build a more humane society. We will vote for the candidate we
truly want to win, the one who represents our beliefs. The tired pleas for
us to abandon our candidate are not going to be heard next time. We must
communicate this now, so Democrats are on notice that they have only four
years to fix elections or suffer future defeats — regardless of how “evil”
the Republican candidate.
We need only look to San
Francisco for an example of a simple and practical electoral reform. On
November 2, San Francisco successfully implemented a voting system called
“instant run-off voting” (or IRV) for electing its local county
supervisors. Voters, in one trip to the ballot box, were able to rank
their top three choices, allowing a runoff to be conducted immediately if
no candidate received over 50% of the vote in the first round of tallying.
The use of IRV nullifies the
“spoiler” argument used by the Democratic Party. It ensures that the
winner of an election will have a mandate with a majority of the votes
cast, not just a plurality victory as the current system permits. In
addition, it allows for the inclusion of voices not counted in traditional
run-off elections, as run-offs are generally plagued by a dramatic drop in
So why can’t we have IRV, or
at the very least, traditional two-candidate run-offs, in presidential
elections? If this method of voting had been used in Florida in 2000,
Nader’s supporters could have selected Al Gore as their second choice,
guaranteeing that their votes would not be wasted and eliminating the
pressure to vote for a candidate who was not their favorite.
Last month, Rep. Jesse Jackson
Jr. (D-IL) introduced IRV legislation in the United States Congress. House
Resolution 5293 mandates that states implement IRV by 2008 in elections of
all federal officials. The only problem is that it’s not the first time
he’s introduced such a measure. In the past he hasn’t been able to
convince enough of his Democratic colleagues to join him. Will it be
different this time?
Now more than ever,
progressives must pledge not to bail out the Democrats next time around.
Certainly not if they’ve failed to work toward electoral reform. To do
otherwise is to get caught up in an endless cycle that props up a rotten
and undemocratic system of voting in order to avert short term evils — all
the while guaranteeing long term ones.
article appeared first in Issue No. 7 of
Mesh magazine, published in November 2004 and available in bookstores
throughout San Francisco.