The Two-Party System has Broken Democracy

Ah, bipartisan democracy. My least favorite “bi” word. Bipartisan democracy is a political system composed of two parties that usually oppose one another. As you probably know, those two lucky parties in America are the Democratic and Republican parties. There are technically smaller parties, like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, but none of these parties have won an electoral vote in over 50 years. These smaller parties have even gained the reputation for being “throw-away votes,” as seen by how pissed you were at your gardening aunt when she voted for Jill Stein.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Political disagreement is inevitable and parties are the only way to organize around different beliefs. So what’s so bad with having them? There’s nothing wrong with political parties; however, there is a problem with only having two. Especially when these two parties do not do a good job of representing all of the American people. More than half of Americans say that neither party does an adequate job of representing their views. This leads the general public to settling for a lesser of two evils or simply not voting at all. This decrease in authentic political participation fundamentally breaks the notion of democracy and reinstates systems of power that colonies were trying to break away from in the formation of this country.

And that’s not the worst of it. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the two party system is the hatred it breeds. From the murders at protests to the newfound violent nature of rallies, it’s clear to see that there is a deep hatred for one’s political opponent that is now being reinforced by the leaders of the country.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS’ WARNING

But isn’t good old competition and severe hatred for the other team a part of the flag wavin’ American identity? It may be now, but it was never intended to be. The Founding Fathers didn’t even want political parties. In his Farewell Address, George Washington himself warned against hyper-partisanship: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” Not convinced? John Adams also agreed, claiming “a division of the republic into two great parties…is to be dreaded as the great political evil.”

Washington and Adams were against a two-party system, because they believed that if one of the two opposing parties gained office, they would use their power to oppress the minority party. This abuse of power for the benefit of those in office would break down the consent of the governed and cause riots and, eventually, authoritarianism. In other words, we’ve kind of messed that one up—sorry GW.

A SLIVER OF HOPE

Thankfully, there are alternatives to our madness. When you think of Maine, you probably think of lobsters or idyllic lighthouses, but what if I told you that Maine might just save democracy? Back in 2016, Maine adopted a ranked choice vote system. The new political innovation works like this: instead of choosing one candidate to vote for, voters will rank the candidates in order of their preference. If no candidate wins the popular vote in the first round of counting ballots, the worst ranked candidate will be eliminated, and the voter’s second choices will come into play. This method of elimination and review continues until one candidate achieves the majority vote.

So, would this make a difference? Many voters have a “vote with your mind, not your heart” strategy, as seen in the logic behind calling a vote for a third party a “thrown away vote.” And to their credit, elections have been lost due to third party votes. Most notably, in the 2000 election where Democratic candidate Al Gore lost by 537 Florida votes, votes that could have come from the 97,421 Florida votes cast for the left-leaning, Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader. Many people vote for a Reublican/Democratic candidate over a third party candidate even if the third party candidate better represents their beliefs to ensure that the other side of the political spectrum doesn’t gain control of office. For example, many Bernie Sanders supporters in the 2016 election opted to vote for Hillary Clinton, even though Jill Stein better suited their political beliefs.

In a ranking voting system, people have the ability to express their political beliefs and vote for a third party candidate without the risk of “throwing away” their vote. They can rank their preferences authentically and know that, if their third party preference does not gain enough popularity, their top ranked third party vote will be eliminated and their secondary vote for the Democratic candidate will be counted. And with more Americans voting authentically and not strategically, this may just be the way to end the rule of the two-party system.

With the ranked-choice method appearing on the presidential race ballot for the first time in the U.S., history (and perhaps the future of democracy itself) has its eyes on Maine.

CALL TO ACTION

  1. Read up on ranked voting and how many other countries use this method effectively in their democracies.
  2. Learn about political parties outside of the Democratic and Republican parties and take this quiz to find out where your political beliefs are best represented.

Emily Powers, Content Creator

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