Changing Gears


This is a much condensed version of my previous article, “Stuck With A Two-Speed”.  Several of my friends and followers have suggested that while my coverage of the details in that post were compelling, the resulting length and complexity might be daunting for some.  The detailed version is still here for those who care to read it, but those on a time budget may find this more approachable.  Much of the source and reference material that was included as part of that original post are linked in the text of this one..

It is clear that many Americans of all political persuasions are fed up with our two-party system.  Many Democrats are angry with the DNC over its conduct and the obvious favoritism it bestowed on the Clinton campaign. There are millions of Republicans who recognize that the nominee of their party is totally unfit for office and Like Green Party supporters and Libertarians these people are essentially disenfranchised having to chose between candidate they can’t support, a party whose practices they find unacceptable, or a minor party candidate with no chance of winning.  Many say they will stay home.  I think this is a bad idea, but it’s your call.

A few quick points which you may or may not agree with – but read on and you will understand why these are facts:

  1. The two entrenched parties have a stranglehold on the election process.  One of the two major party nominees will win in November.  There is no realistic chance of this changing between now and then.
  2. Staying home and not voting is essentially saying that you see no difference between the two and will be equally unhappy with either.  If you are a thinking person, think about this again.
  3. Voting for one of the third party candidates may feel good, but from the standpoint of who will win in November it is the same as #2.

The reason we find ourselves in this situation is the election process set forth in the third clause of Article II Section I of the Constitution, and the Twelfth Amendment which slightly changes this process.  These two sections of our foundational document with a few additional provisions elsewhere create the following rules of the road for our elections:

  • Each state is granted electoral votes based on the number of seats in the House of Representatives they are allotted by population, plus two. (One for each Senator.)
  • Washington DC, with no congressional representation is granted three electors by the Twenty-Third Amendment.
  • This brings the total number of electors to 538, with a majority (270) being required to secure the election.
  •  In the event no candidate achieves 270 electoral votes the outgoing (“lame duck”) House of Representatives selects the President from the top three candidates by the following process:
    • Each state delegation has one vote, meaning Alaska and Delaware with one elector each now have as much say as California with 53.
    • A body subject to partisan gerrymandering, which may have just been significantly rejected by the electorate gets to chose the next President.
    • The Vice President is selected by a vote of the also lame-duck Senate.
    • There are no rules prohibiting inside deal-making and favor trading in the process – and yes, this has happened.

This process for handling indecisive elections is very important in terms of breaking out of a two-party system.  While nothing in the Constitution specifically favors a binary selection process, the realities of math make it almost inevitable.  With two candidates essentially dominating the election the chances of an electoral tie are extremely low – as in, it has never happened in 224 years. When you start adding additional viable candidates the chances of none of them achieving a majority becomes much much higher.  In a three-way race with a relatively even split of base support no candidate would be even close to 270 votes – and to win the election one candidate would need to amass 91 additional electors more than the combined total of the other two making the chances of the election going to the House extremely likely.  Make it race with four widely supported candidates and an undecided election is essentially inevitable.  Both elections decided by the House due to no candidate achieving a majority (1800 and 1824) were four-way races, and both created widespread public dissatisfaction.  (There was one other even more disastrous situation where this happened, but it was extraordinary in nature. You can read my longer version of this article if you are interested in the details.)

The electoral system itself is another obstacle to a fair process.  Born out of a distrust of pure democracy (a good discussion of this is here) only four times in our history has the popular vote winner failed to also win the Electoral College, none of the four having anything to do with the reason the Electoral College was established, and three of the four decisions were either made or influenced by Congress and/or the Supreme Court.  In addition the existence of the Electoral College in our now vast and diverse country creates the phenomenon of “swing states”, mid-sized states with electorates relatively split between the parties which can sway the election to one side or another causing undue attention and focus being concentrated on small regional preferences rather than addressing the needs of the country as a whole.

So as you can see, between the Electoral College which no longer serves any useful purpose, if it ever did, which serves as a tool for the large entrenched parties to concentrate their efforts in relatively small areas like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida in order to put their candidates over the top, and the mathematics of the election process which means we either retain a two-party system, or have most of our elections decided for us by a lame-duck Congress – our only way out is a Constitutional Amendment to change the way we elect the President.

Amending the Constitution has almost nothing to do with who is in the White House (the President has no direct say in the matter under Article V of the Constitution.) and everything to do with who we elect as Senators, Representatives, and State Legislators.  A two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress is required to propose an amendment, and three-quarters of the state legislatures then must ratify the amendment for it to take effect.  (There is also a provision for a Constitutional Convention, something never attempted before and unlikely to succeed.)

What this means is that it will take a concerted effort on the part of all of us, across the political spectrum, to demand that those we chose to represent us support a complete overhaul of how we elect the President, eliminate the practice of gerrymandering Congressional districts, remove the influence of big money from the process, and specifies uniform and fair standards for how elections are held nationwide.

Specifically I believe that such an amendment would achieve the following goals:

  • Replace the third clause of Article II Section one of the US Constitution and the Twelfth Amendment.
    • Abolish the electoral college in favor of a system honoring the principle of one person, one vote.
    • Prohibit giving official or favored status to any political party, and eliminating the corrupt system of publicly funded political primaries.
    • Provide for a run-off system in the event that no individual achieves a clear majority, and remove the unfair and dangerous possibility of a lame-duck Congress disenfranchising the electorate.
    • Place all elections for national office which impact the nation as a whole, including those for President, Vice President, and Congress under a uniform set of federal standards, and eliminate the ability of states to enact laws advancing voter suppression.
    • Place uniform non-partisan standards on the drawing of congressional district boundaries eliminating the practice of gerrymandering.
  • Clarify the intent of the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment as applying to natural persons and not corporations, thus invalidating the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. (558 U.S. 310)
    • Provide for a fair, publicly funded campaign system in which large private donations are prohibited.
    • Require federally licensed broadcast media to provide equal time to all candidates who meet reasonable standards of voter support.

We have the ability, using the power of social media and personal connections to start this change.  It is not happening between now and this coming November – it’s a much longer term process – but the time to start is now.  Become part of a local effort to elect legislators in your state who support real election reforms.  Be a voice demanding that candidates for the House and Senate state their positions on election reform, and encourage an environment where THIS becomes an essential criterion for voter support.

In the meantime, I encourage you, if you are considering staying home this November to re-think this.  There is a difference between the two candidates for President, and the down-ticket elections are just as important if not more so.  This includes both the elections for your Congressional district, any Senate seats that are up for election in your state, as well as elections for your state legislature.

If we are to move beyond a two-party system we need to stop thinking in terms of party, and we need to change the transmission.

It’s a big job – but this two-speed is getting pretty clunky.

Are you in?

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