The Daily Show, Real Time, Last Week Tonight, all these political satire shows have had moments of brilliance over the years. Patriot Act is still just a kid in the game, but in my opinion has been making a bigger impact. It’s rare I do a write up of one of their episodes (unless Bill Maher says something stupid). Nevertheless, when I watched Hasan Minhaj do an epic take down of how we’re doing elections wrong, it couldn’t be helped.
As most of my readers know by now, I’m Canadian. I live in a country with two official languages, a dozen or so distinct regions and four or five official political parties depending on the election year. Canadians and some Americans like to believe our parliamentary system is far superior to that of the United States… Well, they’re right.
Canada has publicly financed elections for starters. Members of Parliament aren’t forced to spend most of their working days raising money. The elections themselves, on the federal level, are administered by Elections Canada, a federal agency. So, no gerrymandering and little voter suppression. That’s all nice and dandy, but still, we’re doing elections wrong.
Electoral reform was one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s campaign promises back in 2015. The liberal Party knew that promise was easily breakable and without consequences, they were right. Canadians might have a choice of voting for half a dozen political parties, but only two have ever been elected to power for fear of splitting the vote. The Liberals and Conservatives, sound familiar?
Parliamentary system or republic, both Canada and the United States subscribe to what Hasan Minhaj describes as “winner take all” elections. In politics, it’s generally referred to as “first past the post.” It’s a system where the winning candidate doesn’t need the majority of votes, just the plurality. In other words, “majority rule” doesn’t apply in our democracies.
Minhaj broke the 2016 election down this way: In the Republican Primary, Donald Trump never got a majority of votes, just a small plurality. Only 13.3 million Americans actually cast a vote for him. That number is only 5.5% of all eligible voters. Most Republicans voted for someone else.
Negative partisanship though, has forced Republicans to support him rather than oppose him now that Trump is in power. Negative partisanship basically suggests that it’s much easier to come out against something, than to support something. In this case, both parties go out of their way to hate each other.
“We all vote like thirteen-year-olds, everything is about who we hate, not who we like. And that is a direct result of winner take all, every election is about all or nothing,” Hasan said. It sums up how we get candidates on both sides who are weak, if not loathed.
The Republican and Democratic candidates are void of policy and their one main talking point is that they can defeat the other guy. In this winner take all system it works. Biden won the Democratic Nomination after stating that if he’s elected, nothing would fundamentally change. All he effectively said was that he could beat Trump.
In a two-party system, Democrats argue they need broad appeal to win. A big tent as they say. The big problem here is that it forces many voters to compromise their values. You are forced to vote for the lessor of two evils, A phrase I’m sure you’ve familiar with.
For Republicans, this tent is very narrow. God, guns, abortion and immigration. For Democrats, the tent is far too big as it contains everything else, even some republican stuff. As a result, progressives find themselves getting pushed out, time after time.
As Minhaj also points out, it’s why 57% of Americans want a third party. A high figure when you realize how we treat third party voters in the United States (even in Canada), but not surprising when you consider how many voters don’t identify with either political party.
The solution, one I’ve wanted in Canada for the last twenty years, is to replace our first past the post system or winner take all, with ranked choice voting. This method ensures majority rule and allows us to vote our conscious without the risks of vote splitting.
Everyone on the ballot gets ranked first to last. Say there are five candidates, you vote for all five in order of preference. If someone crosses 50% after the first count, they win, majority rule. If there is no clear winner, the last place candidate has their ballots recounted toward their second choice. So on, until someone reaches the 50% threshold.
If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. And it wouldn’t require an amendment to the constitution, it just has to be passed into law. There are other countries, states, and municipalities that already put ranked voting into practice. In fact, in Canada, the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic Parties all elect their leaders this way. If it’s good enough for the party elections, why isn’t it good enough for the federal?
Hasan Minhaj ends with a pre-recorded interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A progressive rebel within the Democratic Party. After affirming the problems Minhaj alluded to earlier, she did what all party members under such a big tent do in the end. She promised to support the Democratic Nominee.
Imagine being forced to vote for someone you have little in common with in your own party. Being forced to support those who would just as soon shut you out. That’s life under winner take all and what we have to look forward to in November. Please check out Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj and how we’re doing elections wrong below.
“There is nothing I dread so much, as a division of the Republic into two great Parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil, under our Constitution.” – John Adams