John Randall: We’re ready for real choice

Ron Paul finished second in the New Hampshire primary. To be more precise, he finished second in both of that state’s primaries – Republican and Democrat, the latter as a write-in vote. Though President Obama is running virtually unopposed in the primaries, 2,289 New Hampshire voters felt that Ron Paul would be a more suitable standard-bearer for the Democrat party than the sitting president.

Of course, Paul has no chance of winning the nomination of either party, but in a three-way race between Ron Paul, Barack Obama and the eventual Republican nominee, how many Republicans, Democrats and independents would vote for Paul if they weren’t afraid that their vote would help their vision of the worst case scenario win? How many would vote for him if they honestly believed he could win?

Instead, many Republicans who would otherwise vote for him won’t for fear that a vote for Paul is a vote for Obama. For some Democrats, the same is true. “I’d vote for Ron Paul except that I’m afraid that Newt Gingrich would win.” Or Mitt Romney or fill in the blank.

Instead, we have a system where a significant percentage of the population, almost certainly more than half, is guaranteed to be disappointed with the results of the 2012 election no matter how it turns out. With a ballot system not significantly changed since the founding of our nation, we have virtually no choice beyond the single Democrat and single Republican that each party presents to us.

With a broken government, perhaps it is time to consider a minor, yet significant, change to the voting process. Rather than a straight vote awarding the office to whoever gets the most votes (through the Electoral College system), what if we allowed voters to rank the candidates in order of preference?

If a single candidate wins more than 50 percent of the first choice votes, he wins that state’s Electoral College votes. In a two-way race, clearly, one will have more than 50 percent and one won’t. But in a three way race, such as in 1992 when George H.W. Bush ran against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, how many people might vote for a third party or independent candidate if they felt that they really had a chance?

If no single candidate can gather 50 percent of the first choice votes, then the second choice votes kick in. The second choice of the voters for the candidate who received the fewest votes would be applied to the top candidates. For instance, in 1992, Clinton received 43.0% of the popular votes, Bush, 37.5% and Perot, 18.9%. There is no way to know, but what if most of Perot’s supporters would have preferred Bush to Clinton? What if 13 of the 18.9% would have noted Bush as their second choice? He would have won reelection.

But what if people who really despised Bush or Clinton were able to vote for Perot as their first choice and Clinton or Bush as their second choice knowing that they wouldn’t be wasting a vote? Perot may have been able to win that election and how different would the world be today if that had happened?

Naturally, this will have to be implemented on a state-by-state basis unless we amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College. But in the upcoming election, a Ron Paul win over a traditional party loyalist would send a message from the American people to those in Washington and that message is that we are ready for real change.

John Randall can be contacted at johnrandall@ironpurpose.com.

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