This article first appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of 'THE GREEN ACTIVIST: Ecology - Grassroots Democracy, Social & Economic Just - Nonviolence', a publication of the Green Party of New York State. Reprinted here with permission.
The recent Presidential election exposed the shortcomings of our present electoral system. The enless vote recount in Florida highlighted that many votes are never counted; that poor, undereducated and minority voters are routinely discriminated against; and, that election officials and judges bend election laws to assist the political forces that appoint them.
The Supreme Court decision ending the election was a travesty, awarding the election to the candidate who lost both the popular vote nationwide and in Florida. So-called conservative justices who dominate the federal Supreme Court manipulated the legal process to deny a State Court the right to count votes, thundering that the equal protection clause was violated by instructions to local official to determine the 'will of the voters'. But these same justices were silent with respect to police roadblocks that turned away minority voters, an electoral system that systemically undercuts votes in poor communities, and the illegal alteration of absentee ballots by political operatives.
Special interests poured unlimited amounts of money into the recent elections at the state and federal level, easily evading so-called restrictions on campaign contributions. Virtually every incumbent (99%) running for both Congress and the New York State Legislature won reelection. This hardly sounds like a functioning democracy.
We need to take back the airwaves and provide free time for ballot-qualified candidtates. The airwaves belong to the people, not the media corporations. We let them use the airwaves for radio and television broadcasting free of charge year after year, and then they collect hundreds of millions of dollars from political candidates paying for ads.
It's time to stop surrendering to a winner-talke-all political system that is only used in America and three other countries. This system denies political representation to many voters, who then decide to stay home on Election Day. Most democracies now us proportional representation, which allocates seats in legislative bodies based on the percentage of votes received by each party.
For single seats, such as President, Governor, or Mayor, we should adopt instant runoff voting (preferential voting). Voters would get to rank the candidates in their order of preference. If no candidtate gets a majority of the votes in the first count, the second choices are then counted until one candidate gets the majority. This liberates voters to choose their favorite candidate, and ignore the cries of 'wasted votes' and 'spoilers'.
When there is no one worth your vote, you should have a binding None-of-the-Above option (NOTA). In so many elections, there is only one major-party name on the ballot, or a choice between two candidates with few significant differences and little new to offer voters. Voters should be able to reject the candidates put forth by choosing None-of-the above, & if NOTA wins, force a new election with new candidates.
We should include everyone in elections by adopting same day voter registration. Just when most people get excited about politics, in the few weeks before the election, it is too late to register to vote in most states. A democracy shouln't turn away millions of people who want to vote simply because they didn't register a month ahead of time.
At the federal level, we must wrest control of the Presidential debates awaya from the two major parties, which have used arbitrary, unfair rules to exclude third-party candidates and the issues they represent from the televised debates. Polls show that 64% of Americans wanted to see a four-way presidential debate this year.
The Green Party has adopted several of these reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting and None of the Above for its own primaries but so far the State Board of Elections has refused to allow it. Court action is expected. The Greens intend to press for electoral reform in the State Legislature and Congress.