See this guy to the left? There are lesser spotted lesbian pottery making owls who are less rare than him. His name is Lincoln Chafee, and from 1999 to 2007 he was a Republican United States Senator from the great if teensy-weensy state of Rhode Island. Nothing special there, you say. Except he was against the death penalty. And the Iraq war. And in favour of gay rights. In fact, on many issues he was to the left of President Obama. In the 2004 general election he wrote George Bush senior’s name on the ballot as a write-in candidate. He endorsed Obama in 2008. Surely, you say, he’s really a Democrat. That’s certainly what the hard right in the Republican party say, calling him, and other moderate Republicans “RINOs” (Republicans in name only.) Yet Lincoln Chafee only quit the Republican party relatively recently, and is now the independent Governor of the state. Why? Because he believes in free enterprise, a small government, low taxes and the freedom of the individual. In other words, traditional Republican values, not the hate filled bible bashing whackjobbery that has seized control of what was once a pretty good party. It seems that there is no room in the modern Republican party for moderates like Lincoln Chafee. Why is that? Here’s why:
Supposing Sinn Fein were able to draw up the boundaries of their own Dail constituencies, to ensure that all the Sinn Fein voters in a given area were in, and non-Sinn Fein voters were moved into another constituency. In other words, it was 100% assured that that constituency would elect a Sinn Fein TD. What that would mean is that the real fight would not be the general election but for the Sinn Fein nomination. And supposing only Sinn Fein voters were allowed vote in the primary election. Imagine the sort of “I hate the Brits more than you!” grandstanding that would go on to appeal to that narrow electoral base, leading inevitably to candidates more concerned about appealing to the extreme voters in their primaries than the broad electorate because they are guaranteed to win in the general election. Sure, it’s not the same in Ireland, where our politicians are so broad based as to be meaningless, but in the US it is causing a poison at the heart of American politics. Both parties have gerrymandered districts so that most are either solid Democratic or Republican, and as a result the real fight is in the primaries, where candidates have to appeal to either ultra liberal or ultra conservative primary voters, and as a result you get a Congress with almost no middle ground.
That’s where we can help. Our electoral system, the single transferable vote, would transform US politics for the better, and here’s how:
First, it would allow parties to scrap the expensive primary process, instead permitting every candidate to contest the general election. In other words, there would be a number of Democrats and Republicans on the ballot paper. But rather than splitting the vote, STV would allow Republican voters to vote for their favoured candidate, but know that if he/she could not get elected, their votes would transfer to their second choice, and so on, until some candidate would win of 50% of all the votes in the district.
But that doesn’t matter in a rigged district, surely? That’s right, but that is where the second part of the Irish system helps. Multi-member districts, as we have in Ireland, make it much harder to gerrymander in favour of one party or another. A four or five seat district means that voters have a better choice, and a better representation for minorities (Such as white voters in parts of Los Angeles. Pay attention conservatives!). But it also allows American voters to vote for how they really feel. A Lincoln Chafee Republican may feel more comfortable giving a second preference to a Clinton Democrat than to a Rush Limbaugh Republican. Likewise, a Rush Limbaugh Republican may prefer to transfer to a Joe Lieberman Democrat than to a Lincoln Chaffee Republican. This system improves choice whilst rewarding moderation, and that’s surely what America needs now.