For a democratic government to work, people need to believe that elections are fair, free, and open, that the government is accountable and beholden to the people, and that everyone can participate. Perception matters more than reality, especially as people look upon government more cynically than perhaps it deserves. So when we consider policies we should not just consider how it changes the real outcome but how it changes perception.
Ranked Choice Voting
Who should win elections? The candidate with the most support or the candidate with the most votes? Our current voting system is First-Past-The-Post meaning you don’t need a majority of votes you just need one more than the next guy (a plurality). This creates the uncomfortable situation where, if there are three or more candidates in the race, you may deduce your preferred candidate unlikely to win and so you vote for the “lesser of two evils” to ensure your least preferred candidate loses.
This is called tactical voting and it’s a problem. An election should be a measure of public sentiment to signal to the government how we want the country governed. But when we vote tactically, we’re hiding our true support and sending false signals to government. It also means we’re more often voting against the other candidate than for our own. That creates a negative perception of our government and a negative perception of our opponents. And that’s not good, that leads to countries collapsing.
There is a better way though and it’s called approval voting. In approval voting you do not select one candidate, you select as many as you approve of. The winner is the candidate who the majority of voters approve of and so is a more accurate representation of the popular will. Approval voting is simple, easy to understand, and works.
But approval voting isn’t the most popular alternative to FPTP voting being promoted and might not have the support necessary to be enacted into Ohio law. The more popular alternative is called Ranked Choice Voting. In Ranked Choice Voting you simply rank the candidates available, your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. choice. When the votes are tallied the candidate with the least 1st choice votes is eliminated and votes are redistributed to the 2nd choice of voters of that candidate and so on until a candidate reaches 50% (+1) of the vote, a majority.
Ranked Choice Voting can still engender tactical voting (really every form of voting can) but to a lesser degree (voters aren’t game theorists). The drawbacks of Ranked Choice Voting as opposed to Approval Voting are than RCV is somewhat more confusing, takes more space on a ballot (but we’re switching to digital anyway), and it’s still possible for the candidate with the most approval among voters to lose. Nevertheless, Ranked Choice Voting is a superior system that eliminates the threat of a “spoiler” candidate, empowers more people to vote as they wish, and is ultimately more democratic. It is a more legitimate form of voting and the government desperately needs to be viewed as legitimate right now.
Automatic Voter Registration
Voting should be easy and available to everyone. One obstacle is registration. Not everyone is registered and not everyone has updated their registration when they’ve changed addresses. This also creates a hassle for canvassers and government. It might not be familiar to most of you but it gets a little tiring going door to door and discovering that the person you’re looking for no longer lives there (you look like a fool!).
But there’s a simple solution, Automatic Voter Registration. When ever you interact with the government, your voter registration should be updated (with the choice to opt out of course). This will increase voter registration ensuring more people can observe their right to vote and it will keep the voter rolls well updated.
Same Day Registration
You should be able to register to vote on election day and then vote. In Ohio, you have to register a month before election day, ridiculous! Twenty-one states already allow same day registration. Ohio should too (with appropriate documentation, of course).
Youth Voting Engagement
The 18-30 year old demographic is historically one of the least likely to vote. This has to do with the business and life changes at that early stage of life, a general sense that voting doesn’t matter, and a general dislike for the available options and unwillingness to “settle”. Of course, we must all learn to settle eventually, but there are ways we can engage this demographic, a demographic who has the most at stake in deciding the future of the country.
One obvious method for engaging youth voters is allowing them to vote at a younger age, say 16 or 17. This suggestion most commonly raises alarm with many convinced that younger voters are too poorly informed, too uneducated, or too impressionable to make decisions for others. Absolutely all of those descriptors are true of the vast majority of those we do allow to vote (and obviously most of the people who raise the objections, ironically). But what is uniquely true of 16 and 17 year-olds is that they have their lives most controlled by government (through education) and have the longest to live with the consequences of an election.
But, if lowering the voting age is a bridge too far for the people of Ohio (who can barely be bothered to vote in a presidential election let alone a midterm or off year election), there is a constructive alternative: pre-registering 16 and 17 year-olds. 18 is not a good year to start voting, most are starting careers, starting college, or moving. Registering voters beforehand means one less obstacle to start voting.
Republicans have maintained disproportionate control over Ohio’s government despite often receiving roughly equal votes as Democrats. This is due to outrageous gerrymandering on the part of the Republicans, drawing districts to ensure their reelection. This has led to the total lack of accountability that allowed for Householder scandal, the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history. We have to ensure fair districts and fair representation undertaken by an independent redistricting commission with only minimal oversight by elected officials (the role of elected officials should often be limited for the best results. More democracy is not always better).
Independent Candidates and Minor Parties
The rules of our elections are set by the two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans. Well in Ohio, they’re mostly set by the Republicans. And not surprisingly, the rules of our elections are designed to favor the Republicans and disenfranchise independents and supporters of alternative parties.
To be on the ballot as an independent candidate, unaffiliated with a recognized party, the number of signatures you are required to get can be upwards of fifty times as many as that of the Democrat or Republican candidate. Signature requirements are lower for minor party candidates but the requirements to gain and maintain minor party status are onerous.
As a representative, even though I am myself affiliated with the Democratic party, will fight to ensure fair treatment of minor parties and independent candidates by lowering signature and vote requirements and by ensuring they have a place in decision making. The vast majority of Ohioans are unaffiliated with either party and they deserve to be represented just as much as anyone. Once I am in office, we will no longer suffer under the rule of party insiders.