The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Can we do something to advance the moderate cause? Yes!

Regular readers of this blog know that I generally take positions that can basically be described as right-of-center, and many of my posts have been in advocacy of moderate Republican candidates. But I think that the cause I am about to put forth in this post is one that moderates of both parties and independent centrists should embrace, however we might differ on individual candidates. The thing is: we need to change the way we elect people to office.

The system we use for nearly all elections is called plurality. You can vote for only one candidate, and the one with the most votes wins. If there are three acceptable candidates, you need to pick one, and if some of your allies pick a different one, the vote for the good candidates is split, so that a candidate that you really don’t want gets elected. Because of the results of such a split, we need primary elections to pick one candidate of each party, and it is in these primaries that moderates are getting crushed by extremists of both the left (in the Democratic party) and the right (in the Republican party).

We have seen this over and over. Arlen Specter, who had served with distinction in the Senate as a moderate Republican representing the state of Pennsylvania for many years, figured he could not win a Republican primary – the last time he had run, he came perilously close to defeat at the hands of Pat Toomey, who was going to run in the primary again. So he switched to the Democratic party, where he thought his chances might be better. That did not help; he was beaten by a left-wing Democrat, Joseph Sestak, in that party’s primary. Polls showed that Specter might have won an election in which all Pennsylvanians could vote, but at the primary level, Toomey would beat him among Republicans and Sestak among Democrats. So the Senate was deprived of a voice for moderation.

Last year, at least two Democrats, Chris Coons in Delaware and Harry Reid in Nevada, were elected although the polls showed that both could be defeated if the Republicans had put forth moderate candidates. And there were available candidates: Mike Castle in Delaware, a very popular member of the House of Representatives, who had had to run statewide since Delaware had only one Representative, and Sue Lowden in Nevada, a State Senator and former state Republican chairwoman. But Tea Party extremists in the Republican primaries forced the nomination of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, both of whom were guilty of such political gaffes as to make them objects of ridicule by the time of the November election.

Some have said that the solution to this is opening up primaries to voters who are not members of the party in question. But that would be a case where the cure might be worse than the disease. Democrats might vote in a Republican primary to pick the candidate who would most easily lose to a Democrat. So a better solution is needed. And that is to have a better voting system. There are two broad types of solution. One is to have proportional representation, where a party that gets 25% of the votes in an election gets 25% of the seats in the body being elected. This is, of course, not possible in an election for an office like a mayor, governor, or president, so for such offices it is necessary to have a system where vote splitting cannot hurt a candidate as it does in plurality voting.

Some people say that proportional representation leads to instability, because it leads the way to the representation of lots of third parties that cannot form majorities; it has in such cases as France and Italy shortly after World War II and Israel more recently. But there are ways of setting up proportional representation that do not lead to this instability; in Germany and, in recent years, New Zealand, a system has been adopted that works and allows third parties to exist without the unstable governments that were seen in those other countries.

But as stated before, there are offices like mayor, governor, or president, which cannot be divided proportionally. So single winner methods need to be devised where a voter can vote his conscience without worrying that splitting the vote would elect his worst choice. There are systems that will do this. A site, which I created, that compares voting systems is available at There is an excellent book by William Poundstone called Gaming the Vote, which also discusses this problem. And Poundstone, as well as I, has concluded that the best system to use is one called “range” or “score” voting, in which you rate all the candidates, so you can (in one version) give a 10 to the candidate(s) you like best, a 1 to the one(s) you like least, and intermediate values to others. So conservatives might give 10s to the most conservative candidates, 1s to the most liberal, and 4s, 5s, or 6s to moderates. Liberals would do the reverse, and moderates might give 1s to the extremists and 9s and 10s to moderate candidates. You would not need primaries, because if there were five Republicans in an election, they would not split the Republican vote, but Republicans could give high ratings to all of them. And the winning candidates would be the ones who got the most support all along the spectrum, leading to many more moderate victories.

An alternative system, known as Instant Runoff Voting, has been proposed by a group known as FairVote. It is essentially the system that has been used in Australia for many years, and proponents of this system have actually gotten it adopted in places like San Francisco; Aspen, Colorado; and Burlington, Vermont. In a few of those places, it was adopted, and has since been rejected, because it can lead to such bizarre results as in the Burlington, Vt. mayoralty election of 2009, where the candidate who might have been a good compromise, receiving support from nearly all the voters, was actually eliminated in the course of the counting, because he was the first choice of comparatively few. In such an election, some candidates who might be the most acceptable to the voters at large get eliminated, and usually the result is as much polarization between extreme candidates as the worst cases we have seen in plurality voting, so moderates, particularly, should resist the propaganda for instant-runoff voting.

You can read more about range/score voting at – a very useful site.

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