Evidence: Election reform moderates political extremes.
A closer look at the 2022 midterm results offers solid evidence that democratic reform efforts are a moderating political force, in a time when both the media pundits and the electorate are exhausted by the pugilistic style of politics today. This creates a powerful narrative that election reforms can fix the pain voters are feeling about hyper-partisanship today. But will the media even care?
First, the fate of the ten GOP House members who voted to impeach Donald Trump after the events of Jan. 6th, 2021 makes an interesting case study comparing the outcome between a partisan primary election system and a non-partisan primary system. Seven of these House members operated with a partisan primary system. The other three ran in non-partisan primaries--advocated by democratic reformers--where the top-two finishers in a single non-partisan primary advance to the general election.
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All seven GOP House members who faced a partisan primary, will not be returning in January. Four retired (instead of facing certain defeat) and three lost—two annihilated—in their partisan primaries. But two of the three who ran in nonpartisan “jungle” primaries were reelected, and the third member fell just 68 votes short of 2nd place needed to advance to the general election.
The data is clear. Depending on how the election rules are designed using different incentives, election results can have a more or less polarizing outcome. These ten members showed a great deal of political independence—country over party. Seven were punished by election rules that dominate today. The other three fared much better in an election system that rewarded independence over blind partisan loyalty.
Then, there is what happened in Alaska, with their new system of four candidates advancing from a non-partisan primary to the general election--and using ranked choice voting (RCV) to determine which candidate has a majority of voter support. Again, the results gravitated towards the middle rather than the extreme.
In Alaska’s U.S. Senate general election, moderate Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski initially finished less than one percent ahead of conservative GOP challenger Kelly Tshibaka (43.4% to 42.6%), but well short of the required 50% majority under RCV rules. In the final RCV tabulation—after the ranked votes from the two eliminated candidates were redistributed—Murkowski won 54/46. The moderate Murkowski captured 90% of the ranked vote from the two eliminated candidates, the bulk of which came from voters who initially voted for the Democratic candidate.
In Alaska’s House race, the dynamics were different, but the moderate outcome was the same. Most impressive, the dynamics of this House election were tested twice, less than four months apart, and achieved the same results.
Moderate GOP scion Nick Begich ran against GOP conservative icon Sarah Palin and moderate Democrat Mary Peltola in August to fill the remaining term of the late Don Young, and again in November. In both elections, Democrat Peltola won the initial vote, but fell short of a majority, with Republicans Palin finishing second and Begich third. When the next round of ranked choice of Begich’s voters were tabulated, a significant plurality of Begich voters ranked the moderate Peltola ahead of conservative Palin, giving Peltola more than the necessary majority of voters required to win.
In summary, under Alaska’s RCV system, voters for a Democratic candidate helped elect a moderate Republican to the U.S. Senate over a more extreme choice; and voters supporting a Republican candidate helped elect a moderate Democrat to the US House of Representatives over a more extreme choice.
So, the good news is the democratic reform community has demonstrated how relatively minor reforms in election rules can elect more consensus-oriented politicians and can alleviate the political fatigue from which we all suffer. But, like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, if the media doesn’t give saturated coverage to the success of these reforms, did they even happen?
Historically, major media coverage of reform issues and successes has been nearly non-existent. This creates a major hurdle that must be cleared before reform advocates can win the hearts and minds of Americans and make major strides to achieve reform.
The challenge for democratic reform advocates is how to capture the attention (and imagination) of the mainstream media so that they will tell these stories about how voters—when given the opportunity—will vote for moderation over extremism.
It certainly is a story worth telling.
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