Prominent legal scholar and political activist Larry Lessig has entered the 2016 race for the White House. Joining Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley for the Democratic nomination, Lessig has an unconventional platform. Aiming to become the first referendum president, Lessig has focused his entire campaign on passage of his Citizen’s Equality Act. The act consists of three fundamental electoral reforms that address the increasingly undemocratic nature of the American electoral system.
The first two reforms Lessig champions are taking money distortions out of congressional and presidential elections and providing greater access to voting. Lessig advocates for a nationwide system of small-dollar donation vouchers and matching funds, for eliminating known barriers to voting (by promoting same-day voter registration and similar reforms), making Election Day a national holiday, and passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 to keep states and subsidiaries from using voting practices to abridge the voting rights of people of color.
The third part of Lessig’s plan is to promote equal representation of all citizens in Congress.
Lessig’s plan for promoting equal representation advocates for passage of FairVote’s Ranked Choice Voting Act. The act seeks to promote better representation and end gerrymandering once and for all, promote collaboration between parties, and deliver political representation more proportional to the composite of the people.
The mechanism to accomplish these goals is the use of ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts. In multi-winner RCV districts, voters rank candidates in order of preference and the top three, four, or five candidates (depending on the district) are awarded seats. Such a system ensures that the great majority of voters will be represented by at least one of their preferred candidates and increases the chances that the party affiliation and ideology of candidates elected will reflect the spectrum of constituent preferences.
This provides much better representation than our current single-winner districts, where many voters (sometimes a majority of voters) will be represented by a candidate they did not vote for and who may not represent their interests or their values. Ranked choice voting also encourages compromise between candidates of potentially different parties and policy positions to get things done for their district, ensuring that any actions taken for a district are the result of discussion and collaboration between representatives.
Further benefits of RCV include higher turnover of incumbents (reducing the incumbency advantage of career politicians) and greater opportunities for new challengers and independent candidates to be elected. Women and people of color are also more likely to be elected in RCV districts. [For more information on how ranked choice voting improves upon our current electoral system, check out FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2014 report.]
Lessig is not alone in supporting ranked choice voting in the United States. Fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has been vocal about his support for ranked choice voting in Vermont, President Barack Obama introduced a bill that would adopt RCV in primary elections in Illinois during his tenure as a state senator, and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has created a committee to examine the use of ranked choice voting in his state. All of these prominent politicians join the ranks of leading political scholars from top universities and think-tanks who advocate for adoption of our fair voting practices.
Several cities and counties in the United States already benefit from ranked choice voting including Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco (CA); Minneapolis and St. Paul (MN), Portland (ME), and Cambridge (MA). Ranked choice voting will be on the ballot this year in Duluth (MN) and for all state and federal elections in Maine in 2016. States including South Carolina and Alabama also use ranked choice voting ballots for citizens and military members living overseas.
While Lessig’s multi-pronged platform eludes to the fact that there are many aspects of our election system that make for unrepresentative, defunct government, a fair representation system can help address the problem. Adopting a ranked choice system will help to ensure that all citizens are better represented in Congress and have the chance to cast a truly meaningful vote come election day.
Editor's note: This article, written by Sarah John and Haley Smith, originally published on FairVote's blog on August 13, 2015, and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN. To learn more about FairVote, visit the organization’s website or follow the group on Facebook or Twitter.