An Electoral Reform Glossary: Companion to the People Before Parties Document
Alternative Voting Methods. The most common method of voting in the United States is called plurality voting. Under a plurality voting system, you pick one candidate from an array of choices. There are alternative methods. In ranked choice voting systems, voters typically identify their top three choices for a given office in their order of preference. Votes are then tallied as if it were a runoff system, i.e. if no one receives a majority of top-line votes, then second choice votes are counted, and so on, until someone receives a majority of the votes. Ranked choice voting has already been implemented in a number of localities around the country. Under range voting, also known as score voting, voters rate all candidates on a scale from 0 to 5. The candidate with the highest score wins. Approval voting is a simplified form of range voting. Under approval voting, voters indicate any and all candidates of which they approve. The candidate with the most “approval” wins.
Independent Redistricting. Every ten years, following the census, the legislative district lines in every state are redrawn to correspond with population change and growth. In most states, this process is controlled by the state legislature, and hence by individuals who have a vested interest in drawing boundaries to benefit themselves. This is an obvious conflict of interest. There are many different ways Independent Redistricting can be implemented. One way is to take the redistricting power out of the hands of sitting legislators and partisans of the major parties and to empower a multipartisan Independent Citizens’ Commission to draw districts. This was done recently in California.
Smaller and more localized districts. The more legislative districts there are in a given state, the more representatives there will be and the fewer constituents they will represent. A legislator who serves fewer constituents can be more easily held accountable by those constituents, and can more adequately serve their interests. The US constitution states that there may not be more than 1 representative in the US House for every 30,000 constituents. Today, on average, there is 1 US House representative for every 700,000 constituents in the country. If we were to abide by the constitutional limit, there would be no less than 1000 members in the House of Representatives.
Proportional representation. From Wikipedia: “PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. For example, under a PR voting system if 30% of voters support a particular party then roughly 30% of seats will be won by that party. PR is an alternative to voting systems based on single member districts or on bloc voting; these non-PR systems tend to produce disproportionate outcomes and to have a bias in favour of larger political groups. PR systems tend to produce a proliferation of political parties, while single member districts encourage a two-party system.”
Expansion of franchise. “Franchise” in this sense means suffrage, or the right to vote. The right to vote is limited by age and status (people under 18 may not vote, non-citizens may not vote, ex-felons often may not vote etc.). In addition, the actual process of voting is often limited by technicalities, you must be registered to vote by such and such a day, you must present such and such forms of identification to vote, etc. Such technicalities are often defended as a way to prevent voter fraud, but in reality they function to depress voter turnout.
Term limits. Term limits, if implemented by law, limit the number of terms that may be served by an elected official. The point of term limits is to prevent career politicians from effectively turning elected offices into lifetime appointments. Obviously, many lawmakers are opposed to term limits, since it would put their current jobs in jeopardy. But the people need not wait for lawmakers to institute such laws. The people can impose term limits themselves by voting for alternatives to incumbents in any and all elections.
Primary Election Reform. Primary elections are typically held to elect a party’s candidate to run in the general election. In roughly half of the states, primary elections are closed. This means that only voters who are registered with that party may vote in its primary, thus dis-enfranchising independent voters. In many states, the public thus funds elections that are not open to the public but are closed to everyone but party members. If a party wants to hold a closed election, they can pay for it themselves.
Initiatives and referenda. Initiatives allow the citizenry to enact legislation independently of the elected legislature. Referenda allow citizens to weigh in on a given piece of legislation. Initiatives and referenda also allow the citizenry to recall elected officials.
Vote counting. Electronic voting machines are produced, operated and serviced by a small number of corporations with significant ties to powerful political factions. Unless there are significant controls to protect against voter fraud by the rigging of such machines, an open source system of hand-countable paper ballots should be re-introduced into our voting systems.
Holiday voting. It is widely believed that voter turnout is so low in the United States because elections are held on Tuesdays, during the normal work week. If election day were a state or national holiday, voting would be encouraged.
Fusion voting. Fusion voting systems allow parties to cross-endorse the same candidate for a given office. Currently only around seven states allow some form of fusion voting. Fusion voting used to be widespread, and could be found in almost every state. Fusion, it is argued, allows smaller parties to have more of an influence in elections.