Protest-vote idiocy

I stumbled across some whiners on Twitter today who hate their country so muchhate Hillary Clinton so much that they would rather have their vote not count at all, or worse, throw the election to Donald Trump, rather than vote for her. At least one of these people claimed to be a lawyer and should know better (but perhaps he was actually representing the views of a client). This is tolerable silliness in one of the “safe” states (for either relevant party), but a grave danger in the swing states, where protest votes could actually throw the election to the forces of evilTrump. To think otherwise is to willfully misunderstand how our electoral system structurally locks in the two dominant parties — even more so now than in 1860, when the modern two-party system came into being. Our electoral system, especially at the presidential level, deliberately disenfranchises geographically dispersed minority opinion. This is inescapable in any first-past-the-post electoral system, as should be obvious from the fact that there are far more Republicans in the House of Representatives than their vote share in the last election would predict, but the winner-take-all nature of the presidential election (except in two states with only a small number of congressional districts and therefore electors) takes this to another level: it takes only a plurality vote to send all of a state’s electors to a given candidate, and those (possibly a majority!) who voted for someone else get absolutely nothing.

So sure, go ahead and vote for Dr. Stein (or Gov. Johnson or whoever the Socialist Workers should nominate) — but only after you’ve gotten a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college and institute in its place direct election of the president using some form of preference voting. Which is not going to happen without changing the composition of Congress and 35 state legislatures — and that requires running serious, credible campaigns for all those offices. If you’re serious about making Greens or Libertarians or Pirates or Marxist-Leninists relevant in those elections, that is going to mean constitutional changes in a lot of states to introduce proportional representation — because even in countries with strong multiparty systems the parties at the political center tend to dominate and will nearly always win in single-member-district FPTP elections. (Thanks to the early-20th-century Progressive reforms, this would be possible to do by citizen’s initiative in many states — if you can get the voters to agree, which is likely to be an uphill battle but still within the realm of the achievable. For that matter, most states that don’t have initiative still require a plebiscite on constitutional amendments.)

To change the U.S. House of Representatives is probably going to take a court case, and (here is where it matters whether Clinton or Trump wins the next election) a much more progressive Supreme Court than the one we have now — because the House acting on its own is never going to repeal the law that prohibits states from using anything other than single-member districts, and the current Supreme Court won’t use the Civil War Amendments to strike it down. (Ideally we would have a mixed-member proportional system, as is used in Germany, but because of the “overhang” that would require another constitutional amendment.) If that’s unachievable, the next-best thing would be to substantially increase the size of the House, which has been fixed at 435 for the better part of a century — increasing the size of the House to 491 or so, while it would give more seats to some southern states like Texas, would put additional pressure on the partisan gerrymanders that make so many House seats “safe”. Even just changing the laws in many states to require nonpartisan redistricting commissions, like in California, would give us a more representative Congress.

These would all be good things, and beneficial for democracy and for the future of the country — unlike voting for Jill Stein (or Gary Johnson or whoever). That’s just idiotic. And I say this as someone who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary: because I’ve been around for a few elections now, and I can do arithmetic, and I have studied history, and I have read the Constitution.

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