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  • Victor C. Bolles

Our Only Hope

On January 5th, President Joe Biden said in a campaign speech, “Donald Trump’s campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. He’s willing to sacrifice our democracy, put himself in power.” And more recently on February 2nd, his vice president, Kamala Harris also said, “We are running our campaign like the fate of our democracy depends on it, because it does.” But this threat to the democracy that they fear is not the threat to your democracy or to my democracy. It is a threat to their democracy.


It is not just the Democrats. Last week, the World’s Coolest Dictator, El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who was recently reelected after a supreme court packed with his loyalists reinterpreted the constitution in that country to allow him to run for a second term, was wildly cheered by MAGA conservatives at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) prior to Donald Trump’s keynote address a few days later.


Russian dictator and war criminal Vladimir Putin is almost guaranteed reelection for another term as president in Russia’s elections in March. Chinese president for life Xi Jinping would probably be elected if elections were ever held in China. Dictators and aspiring autocrats around the world seem incredibly popular these days. What is going on?


Democracy is not all it is cracked up to be. As I have said repeatedly, democracy is a tool and tools can be used for good or ill. But like my neighbor’s garage, which is a sanctum sanctorum of  tools, there are a myriad of tools, each perfect for a specific job. I have a lot of wrenches some of which are perfect for some tasks and lousy for other tasks. The task for democracy is, as I noted in my commentary of September 24, 2019, Commander’s Intent, liberty. As the Founders of America intended the Constitution was ordained and established to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”


Right now democracy is not doing a very good job of securing the blessings of liberty. In 2024 democracy seems to be driving us inevitably toward a future of either collectivist autocracy or fascist dictatorship. There has to be an alternative. But to find that alternative we need a better tool. The Founders clearly feared the power of government so they included checks and balances on the power of government in the Constitution. But they also feared the power of democracy. So they included checks and balances on the power of democracy as well. But those checks and balances on democracy have eroded over time as the peoples’ desire for security overwhelmed their desire for liberty.


But there are some things that we can do to get a democracy that can enhance our liberty. We need to modify how primary elections are run because the current primary methodology is driving the left further left and the right further right. I don’t think that the American people want to go back to having party hacks naming candidates in some smoke-filled back room. But we must also look at the fact that Donald Trump won the nomination to be the 2016 Republican presidential candidate by getting 14 million votes in the primaries that year. 14 million is a lot of people but it was only 4.3% of the US population that year. It was that 4.3% plus a similar percentage in the Democratic primaries that determined that the rest of the American people had to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Two unpopular candidates that most Americans did not like or want. And now we are faced with a similar choice in 2024. It may be too late in the campaign to make significant changes in the primary process, but if we start now maybe we can create a better process for 2028 or we may end up with even more candidates we do not like or want.


There are a number of methods that can improve how democracy can work better on securing our liberty. Authors Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter describe alternatives in their book, The Politics Industry. One method is to eliminate plurality voting. In the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump only won by a plurality in the early primary states but won the majority of delegates. In winner-takes-all states like South Carolina, he won only 32.5% of the votes in 2016 but 100% of the delegates. Many countries require run-offs when no candidates have an absolute majority (most Nicaraguans wish their country had such a requirement. Daniel Ortega won the presidency with only 38% of the vote and he has been there ever since). Run-offs would delay the final results but might be preferable to deciding by Supreme Court decision or riot.


Another option is ranked-choice voting where voters rank the candidates according to their preference. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, the votes for the candidate who had the least amount votes are recalculated giving the remaining candidates the second choice votes of the eliminated candidate. The process is continued until one candidate has a majority. Some people believe that ranked-choice-voting is too complicated for the American voter but I think those people underestimate how much Americans dislike the current scheme.


This is where the states come in. The Constitution says that the states are in charge of the method of voting and Maine and Alaska already have RCV for some elections including primaries and a number of cities and municipalities also use RCV for local elections. Maine will use RCV in the March 5th Super Tuesday primary but the Maine Republican Party has said it will award delegates based only on the first round (that might give you a hint on how they feel about giving voters some options). Alaska will award delegates on a proportional basis.


Gehl and Porter also recommend what they call final-five voting where the top five candidates from the primaries would be on the November ballot no matter which party they belonged to. A Wall Street Journal editorial (Schiff, Porter and the Law of the Jungle Primary, February 25, 2024) said that California’s final-two election is increasing extremism instead of reducing it but that is why it is important for the states to experiment to find out what works. Final-five voting might work better than final-two.


But improving voting is only the first step. There is still a lot of work to do to get our government working for the American people and not for extremists on the left and right. Time is of the essence but these experiments in reform will not be in place for the 2024 elections. We have only two hopes to forestall an extremist takeover. A viable third party candidate such as No Labels is proposing and a divided government. This will prolong our agony of divisiveness, ineffectual governance and foreign policy confusion. But that, it is sad to say, is about the best we can hope for.


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