The system of elections in the US is clearly broken.
The way that big money now dominates who gets to be on the ballot, the gerrymandering of districts to ensure that one party gets entrenched, and the barriers to voting that have been erected that seek to make it harder for some groups, especially the young, poorer, and people of color to vote, all are markings of a corrupt system. Various reforms have been suggested, and this article gives some alternatives, all of which have the benefit of slightly loosening the stranglehold that the two major parties currently have.
I have an even more modest proposal that is a very slight tweaking of the current system but enables voters to send a more explicit message about what their vote means.
It has become clear that for some voters, neither candidate being presented is someone they like. This leaves them with the option of not voting at all or voting against a candidate by voting for the rival one, which is what I (and I suspect many others) often end up doing, thinking along the lines of “Well, the Democrats may be also corrupt and rotten and servants of the oligarchy but they are not as insane as the Republicans”. In other words you cast a vote for candidate X because you think candidate Y is much worse. The huge amounts of money poured into attack ads and negative advertising suggests that candidates think that persuading people to vote against their rival is easier than giving them a reason to vote for them
The problem is that there is no way to distinguish between how many people voted for X because they liked the candidate and how many voted for X because they really disliked Y. In other words, the voters’ intentions get lost in the process. And what is more galling is that the winner will declare that he or she has a mandate for them and their policies even if they don’t have one and won only because their rival was perceived as worse.
I have been toying with the idea of a modified voting system where the ballot has, against each candidate, a box to vote ‘For’ and a box to vote ‘Against’. So with two candidates, you would have four boxes and you check one. When the votes are counted, for each candidate you subtract the votes against the candidate from the ones in favor, and the candidate with the greater net vote wins.
So for example, if candidate X gets 100 For votes and 500 Against votes, the net score would be -400. If Candidate Y gets 150 For votes and 600 Against votes, the net score would be -450 and so X wins.
It is not hard to see that the actual result would be the same in both ways of scoring. (If votes for X are given by XF and votes against X are given by XA, with those for Y being YF and YA respectively, then in the traditional system, X would get XF+YA and Y would get YF+XA. In my alternative system X’s net score would be XA-XF and Y’s net score would be YA-YF. If X wins in the traditional system, that means that XF+YA>YF+XA. But this implies that XF-XA>YF-YA and X wins in the alternative system as well.)
So if the result is the same, what is the point? I suggest that it may have a chastening effect on candidates if they win merely because they had a smaller, but still large, negative score. It means that they cannot claim a mandate for their policies nor hide the fact that they are actually disliked. It would send a strong message that people are unhappy with the system if winning candidates have large negative scores.
It may also increase the motivation of some people to vote. It is often hard to drum up the enthusiasm to vote for a candidate simply because they are the lesser of two evils. But voting against a greater evil may provide greater psychological benefits.
An interesting issue arises if there are more than two candidates. I suspect that currently third party candidates who are seen as having little chance of winning get mostly positive votes from supporters and a few from those who hate both major parties with a passion. In the proposed system, they could end up with a positive net score and win while the two major parties are running up each others’ negative votes. Thus the mere presence of a third party candidate changes the dynamic of the race completely.
The catch is that a totally obscure third candidate may get just one positive vote (their own) and no negative votes (because no one has heard of them) and thus have the best net score because the other candidates have been slinging mud at each other. To avoid this, you may need to have some sort of threshold number of total votes cast for a candidate (both for and against) to ensure that it is a serious candidate with people knowing of their existence.
There is not a chance in hell that my system will ever be adopted but the current system is so lousy that my mind can’t help but try to think if ways it could be made even slightly better. I will leave it to readers to point out deficiencies in this system that I may have overlooked.