The November elections saw the beginnings of a massive shift in American politics. Across the nation, Democrats won races in areas that were previously seen as solidly Republican. People of color and members of the LGBTQ community were elected to office, increasing minority representation in American legislatures. And here in Georgia, Democrats managed to flip three seats: Deborah Gonzalez won her race in House District 117, and Jonathan Wallace won his race in House District 119. In Senate District 6, Democrats Jaha Howard and Jen Jordan managed to split the Democratic vote evenly, resulting in both surpassing all Republican candidates in Hunter Hill’s former district, resulting in a runoff between two Democrats in this previously Republican district. This also ends the Republican supermajority in the Georgia Senate, which allows the GOP to force legislation through using a veto-proof majority.
Obviously, Georgia Republicans are not happy about any of this. But none are as upset as Senator Josh McKoon.
McKoon, famous for his crusade against LGBT rights under the guise of religious freedom, has called for changing the way we hold special elections in the state of Georgia by imposing partisan primaries, which would remove the potential for an all-Democrat runoff. Notably, it would also end all-Republican runoffs. However, he does not care about ensuring equal representation for all ideological views – he cares only about protecting the dominance of his views in the state legislature.
Luckily for Georgia’s citizens, members of his own party are standing against him. As I stated in my Voting Rights page, Representative Buzz Brockway from Lawrenceville recently spoke against McKoon’s plans and instead called for preferential voting. This is something I have been advocating in favor of for years, and I am glad to see bipartisan support coming together around this idea. It has many benefits – for state budgets, for electoral integrity, and for reducing the partisan divisiveness that plagues the current political climate. My concern with Brockway’s position is that he wants this for special elections only. I want this applied to all elections in the state of Georgia.
Elections cost money. Not just for us candidates who spend money filling your mailboxes with fliers and placing road signs all along your route to work, but for taxpayers as well. Your tax money funds the polling process. Those smiling faces checking your registration and providing you with your ballot? They are paid with taxpayer dollars. Transporting the voting machines to polling places? Taxpayer dollars. Counting the ballots? Taxpayer dollars. And if there’s a recount or a runoff, that’s even more money being spent. Preferential voting will eliminate the potential for a runoff due to the way this system works: voters rank the candidates on the ballot in order of preference. If their first choice does not reach a certain threshold – for example, ten percent of the vote – all votes for that candidate are redistributed to the second choice. And this continues with increasing thresholds until one candidate exceeds fifty percent of the vote. The entire process is automatic. No runoffs equals budget savings.
Those savings are important – because implementing this system would require brand new voting machines. Our current machines are highly outdated – they’re the same machines I voted on when I cast my first ballot in 2004. But over time, the cost savings from eliminating runoffs will exceed the cost of the new machines. And since we would already be getting new machines, why not ensure the integrity of our elections by requiring that the machines print out a paper ballot that can be used to verify that the electronic data is accurate? The electronic data could be tabulated and processed nearly instantly, with the paper ballots counted to verify the accuracy of the computers. This will put to rest the far-too-common concerns of our citizens who are worried that these machines may be changing their vote on submission into the database.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of preferential voting is its impact on partisanship in general. A majority of Americans are unhappy with both major parties. They like neither the Republicans nor the Democrats. They want another choice. But they feel the American two-party system requires them to vote for “the lesser of two evils” because voting for a third party or independent candidate would be throwing their vote away and “letting the other guy win”. This is called the spoiler effect – that votes for a third party are votes taken away from a major party candidate, spoiling their chances for electoral success. I may be a Democrat, a member of one of the two major parties, but I believe that we need to level the playing field so that all people are able to vote their conscience rather than playing it safe by voting strategically. The current system results in apathetic voters who feel abandoned by the major parties simply not voting, which results in our politics being dominated increasingly by the far-right and the far-left. Implementing preferential voting will allow for more candidates to have a viable chance at being elected, and will force both the Democrats and the Republicans to listen more closely to the concerns of their constituents. It will force us to earn your trust again. And at the end of the day it will force all political ideologies to stop bickering and start cooperating.