Escaping from the Two-Party System

by Jeffry R. Fisher

In the US, plurality voting induces a "bandwagon effect" in electoral contests with more than two candidates. Because voters can't indicate support for all acceptable candidates, each feels compelled to vote for the "lesser of two evils" among the perceived leaders. This leads us to vote for people we don't even like for the sole purpose of defeating the one person in each contest that we hate the most.

Many of us vote Republican only because we fear that the Democrats will take our money, dictate how we use our property, and then nationalize more of the economy. Conversely, just as many vote Democratic because they fear that the Republicans are turning America into a fascist police state. Neither authoritarian wing could come anywhere close to winning any elections without the other driving voters into its arms. In this respect, the two major parties are utterly codependent, and many eligible voters feel trapped to the point of not even bothering to cast ballots. So how can we fix this?

The ultimate cure is to replace this wretched voting system with approval voting. Approval voting is, in essence, an up or down vote on each candidate in each contest, and whoever receives the most thumbs up in any contest wins it. It's simple enough to be easily understood by nearly all voters, yet elegant in how it frees voters to show their true preferences.

Unfortunately, the politicians whose power is built on the current system are very unlikely to fix it for us; they like it as it is: fixed for themselves. That means that we have a long, hard initiative battle ahead of us, and I don't even see it starting, nor do I know how to start it myself. Therefore, rather than waiting for a miracle to happen, let's do something in the meantime to take back more control over our votes:

Vote Pairing

Or how to have your vote and cancel someone else's too

Here's an immediate way to break out of the two-party racket: First, get a mail-in (absentee) ballot. Second, before you hold your nose to vote for a raft of D's or R's, call up a friend who is likely to be canceling your votes with just as little enthusiasm as you were about to cast them. Tell your friend to get a mail-in ballot too. Then, sit down together and cast all or part of both ballots for independents and/or minor party candidates.

The beauty of using the mail in ballots is that you can verify each other rather than trusting to honor; you are, after all, political rivals. Then, seal the ballots and drop them in the mail simultaneously, each of you going away satisfied that while voting for your true favorite(s), you still managed to cancel "the enemy" (least favored front runner). The margin between D's and R's will be unchanged by your collaboration, but their unfair advantage over "third parties" will be undermined. Support for minor parties will be more fully (and justly) expressed.

Who knows? If my idea spreads and becomes a movement, then organizations (like the minor parties themselves... hint, hint) could host "vote pairing parties" to facilitate the process. We might get to witness the spectacle of the Libertarians sitting down with Greens. Alert the media!

Individuals could also shop for voting partners online. Since erstwhile D's and R's would meet face to face, the feelings-oriented mass media could hope to create multicultural irony to film, so newspapers and local TV stations might organize swap meets of their own. With enough facilitation, we might actually elect some independents, perhaps even to the Whitehouse.

Of course, no good idea goes unpunished, and established principalities don't go down quietly. Therefore, expect self-serving career politicians from both major parties to try to outlaw this free use of one's franchise. If some government official announces that you may not voluntarily share your voting experience or collaborate with another voter, take it as a sign of fear from a tyrant who deserves to be brought down, and seriously consider whether civil disobedience would be the better part of justice when it sets votes free.

Copyright 2003-2008 by Jeffry R. Fisher: Permission is granted to reproduce this article in whole, but only in combination with attribution, the original title, the original URL, and this copyright notice.
Jeffry R. Fisher is the founder and president of Propagate Ltd, which is liberating digital content as