[EM] Re: Kerry-Nader negotiation initiative

RLSuter at aol.com RLSuter at aol.com
Fri Sep 3 19:52:08 PDT 2004

Eric and others,

I posted the Kerry-Nader initiative message because it has everything
to do with election methods. Furthermore, the message included a brief
discussion about the need to reform presidential elections. That 
section (copied below) includes brief summaries of the four most
widely advocated alternatives to plurality voting (runoff elections, IRV,
Condorcet, and approval) as well as a discussion of the option of
delegating presidential electors by the vote percentages of candidates,
which I believe is preferable to having states use better voting methods
but continuing to give the winning candidate of each state all the
electors.. If the vote percentage option were in place, candidates
would have to negotiate if there were no majority winner, which I'm
guessing would quickly if not immediately become the rule.

In any case, if the U.S. had a reasonably adequate system for
electing presidents, no initiative like the one I'm proposing would be
necessary. What is dismaying is that I have not heard a single
political scientist or other expert in the mainstream media who
has provided a very clear explanation of why we are cursed with
the spoiler problem and why Nader's candidacy is merely the worst
instance of this in recent history if not all of U.S. history. I'm
wondering if even most political scienstists understand this,
fundamentally important and profoundly consequential though
it is.

As for Paul Kislanko's comments, I don't know what to make of them. Rob
Brown has responded to them as well as I could. I agree with Rob that
Paul's analysis is unintelligible -- so much so that I'm wondering who Paul
is and what other messages he has posted to this list. His initial message
asking whether my proposal was a Republican trick made me wonder
if he had even read my message and made a sincere effort to understand
and fairly evaluate it. I doubt it. I also posted the message to the
RalphNader2004 list, which is very pro-Nader, and the first few people
who responded clearly had not read my message at all. The first
person responding, who is a historian at the University of Cincinnati
(I looked him up on the web to confirm it), had a one line comment:
"No negotiations with the enemy, thanks." I'm close to 100% certain,
based on some of his previous postings to the list, that he didn't read
my message at all.

There was once an election reform list, which apparently still exists but
has been virtually dormant for several years. That, I'll admit, would be
a better place to post a proposal like mine. But I wanted to post it on
an active list like this one where I could hope that at least a few people
would actually read it and comment on it. Thankfully, Rob Brown
and James Green-Armytage did, and I really appreciate their supportive
replies. I hope others who skipped the message after seeing Paul
Kislanko's initial very dismissive reply will take another look at it,
at least the section about the need to reform presidential elections
(which, again, is copied below).

-Ralph Suter

>  Let's keep these kinds of discussions off the list. I am not 
>  interested. No, it does not matter how important you think your final 
>  thought is...I am not interested.
>  If you would like a suggestion on an appropriate location for such 
>  discussions, I would be happy to provide them off-list.

The need to reform presidential elections

Never has there been a greater need for a third party
or independent presidential candidate who can seriously
challenge the two major party candidates on what should
be by far the most strongly debated issue (the Iraq war)
but probably won't be because Bush's and Kerry's views
about it are so similar and Nader's views are likely to
receive little media attention unless Kerry agrees to
debate him.

There are two ways election laws could be changed to
enable third party and independent presidential candidates
to more easily and effectively challenge the major party
candidates: (1) presidential electors could be delegated
to candidates according to their vote percentages in each
state, or (2) the plurality voting method now used by all
states could be replaced by other methods.

Neither of these options would require any constitutional
amendments. They would require only changes in state laws,
because under the Constitution, states are entitled to
delegate presidential electors in whatever ways they wish.

The first option would enable even minor candidates to get
some electors. It therefore would be fairer to third party
and independent candidates. In California, for example, a
candidate would need to less than 3% of the state vote to
get an elector. If no candidate won a majority of electors
nationally, candidates could offer concessions in exchange
for additional electoral votes, or they could offer to
pledge their electors to other candidates in exchange for

Given the importance of winning the presidency, such a
proportional system would create powerful incentives for
negotiating. In addition, such a system would encourage
presidents to be less partisan and more open to dialogue
and compromise.

The second option would not enable as many candidates
to get electors, but it would at least allow people to
vote their true preferences with little or no worry that
they would be wasting their votes or helping spoil an
election. The voting methods most often proposed as
alternatives to plurality voting are:

  (a) holding conventional runoff elections when there
are no majority winners in initial elections;

  (b) "instant runoff voting" (IRV), where voters rank
candidates from most preferred to least preferred and the
ballots are interpreted in a way that simulates a series
of runoff elections;

  (c) "Condorcet voting" (named after its 18th century
inventor), where voters rank candidates just as they do
with IRV but the ballots are interpreted in a way that
simulates one-to-one contests between each candidate and
every other candidate; and

  (d) "approval voting" where voters may vote for as few
or as many candidates as they find acceptable.

While each of these methods has defenders and detractors
among political reformers and voting experts, all would
have enabled Nader to strongly challenge Kerry and Bush
without seriously threatening to spoil the election. As
a result, there would have been little or no pressure on
Nader to drop out of the race, and he would have had a
much easier time raising money and recruiting volunteers.
His views and proposals would also be getting much more
attention, and there would be a much more vigorous debate
about the Iraq war and about many other issues.

If Kerry pledges to strongly support efforts to reform
presidential elections and then wins the election with
Nader's help, a reform movement could quickly gather
momentum after the election (or even before) and succeed
in obtaining major election law reforms in all or most
states by 2008.

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