The Fight for the Equal Vote:
It all comes down to “One Person One Vote.” This fundamental concept is at the core of a just democracy and it goes much farther than simply making sure we each get a ballot on election day. “One Person One Vote” mandates that we all have an “Equally Weighted Vote.” Specifically, your vote should be just as powerful as mine, no matter where we live, how many candidates we like, or if we are in a minority faction. The voting system shouldn't play favorites.
How Do We Know If Our Votes Are Equal?
The test of balance is this: Any way I vote, you should be able to vote in an equal and opposite fashion. Our votes should be able to cancel each other’s out.
Uniting the Election Reform Movement:
The fight for Equal Vote has far reaching implications. The Equal Vote is the key to ending "vote splitting," it's the key in the fight against Gerrymandering, and it’s the key in addressing inequality in the Electoral College. In 1964, Wesberry v. Sanders, The U.S. Supreme Court declared that equality of voting - one person, one vote - means that "the weight and worth of the citizens' votes as nearly as is practicable must be the same." The core of our voting system is how we fill out our ballots and how we vote. It’s time to bring the Equal Vote standard to the ballot itself.
Our Current Voting Method is Fundamentally Unequal!
Unfortunately, under our current “choose one only” voting method, our votes are only equal if there are two candidates in the race. If there are more than two, it fails the test of balance miserably, and vote splitting is the consequence. These days we often see the majority split between similar candidates, allowing a candidate who was opposed by the majority to win.
The Spoiler Effect occurs when a third candidate entering a race
splits votes with a similar candidate who would otherwise win,
thus causing a candidate less preferred by the electorate to win instead.
Solving the Spoiler Effect is the holy grail of voting reform. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon; it’s also known as Vote Splitting or The Nader Effect. This is what leads to heated arguments about whether it’s better to "vote your conscience," or whether that’d be a waste and it’s actually better to settle for “the lesser of two evils”. This is what entrenches the two-party system, and causes many voters to feel like they are powerless to express their true opinions.
In the example above the yellow voters like 2 candidates, so their vote is only 1/2 as powerful as the green voter. If they liked 3 candidates then their vote would only be 1/3 as powerful. Having more candidates you agree with in the election should be a good thing, but with our current system it's a huge disadvantage.
Because our system is so unfair and inaccurate with more than two candidates, voters learn the hard way that it's only safe to vote for the two front-runners. And who are the front-runners most of the time? Candidates with name recognition, press coverage and most of all big money backing. The system is set up and designed to give big money big influence. No wonder corruption runs rampant. Candidates are often held hostage by their donors and fundraising becomes a big part of the job. More importantly, the voters are held hostage by that big money too. Nobody wants to throw their vote away on spoiler candidate and risk splitting the vote.
The fact that it's only safe to vote for the two front-runners leads directly to a two party dominated, hyper-polarized government. In elections where there isn't a clear front runner on each side the results can be especially disastrous. The Spoiler Effect gives polarizing or extremist candidates a big advantage.
Voters who can't safely vote their conscience feel like the system is rigged, and as a result voter turnout is abysmally low. The 2016 General Election saw over 45% of eligible voters staying home. The reality that many of us can't safely vote our conscience also prevents us from holding our elected officials accountable, and it prevents us from advancing candidates who represent us in the first place.
In recent years both major political parties have unfairly lost a presidential election in part due to the Spoiler Effect. In both cases 3rd parties were scapegoated, but this isn't just about 3rd parties. It can happen just as much or more in partisan primaries or non-partisan elections. The more candidates, the more risk. With the Spoiler Effect everyone stands to lose sooner or later. Vote splitting leaves us divided and conquered.
Watch The Voting System is the Problem! to learn more about this and other ways that our current voting system is unfair, unequal, and can waste your vote.
It's Basic Bad Design And We Can Do Better!
STAR Voting solves vote splitting and the Spoiler Effect by giving each voter an Equally Weighted Vote! Any way that I fill out my ballot you can fill yours out in an equal and opposite way.
STAR Voting offers textbook equality in both the scoring round and also in the runoff round. If I give someone a 5, you can give them a 0. If I give them a 4, you can give them a 1. In the runoff, if I prefer one candidate, you can prefer the other.
STAR Voting isn't the first or only alternative voting system to accomplish this; Score Voting and Approval Voting also pass this bar. (Instant Runoff Voting doesn't offer an equally weighted vote, but it does mitigate the spoiler effect when there are only 2 viable candidates.)
STAR Voting is the first to offer an Equally Weighted Vote and solve the Spoiler Effect, while at the same time allowing voters to show their full opinion and also allowing and strongly encouraging voters to show their full honest opinion. That's why we are the Equal Vote Coalition!
Election reform is a big field. STAR Voting alone can't solve all of the problems in politics but we believe it does got to the root of the problem, correcting inequality in the ballot itself. If we adopted STAR voting but failed to pass any other election reforms, we would still have a significant impact. An equal and honest vote translates to better accountability and there is reason to believe that passing STAR Voting could help us be more effective on every other issue that is important to us.
The Equal Vote is the key to fighting Gerrymandering!
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing up legislative districts strategically in order to win more seats.
The election reform movement has made a lot of strides in the fight against Gerrymandering and recent court cases set an important precedent for our right to an Equally Weighted Vote. We've also made some major strides in figuring out how to identify Gerrymandering and problematic districting using "Efficiency Gap". Efficiency gap essentially measures how equal our votes are and how many votes are "wasted". A certain margin of error is to be expected when people draw district lines around moving populations, but the system shouldn't be intentionally wasting some votes more than others.
Many of the worst Gerrymandered districts are stretched out in crazy shapes in an effort to catch some voters and avoid others. One innovation to address that uses computers to draw compact districts, and there is also a major push to ensure that districts are drawn by non-partisan redistricting commissions. It gets wonky fast but public attention and outcry over this critical issue gives us hope that people are willing to do their homework and get fired up!
Using STAR Voting for single seat elections would help mitigate the influence of Gerrymandering because it allows minority voters to have a voice, even when their favorites can't win, but the Proportional Representation version of STAR Voting would do a lot more. Proportional Representation voting methods use multi-winner districts to ensure that if a group had 40% of the votes they would earn 40% of the seats.
The Equal Vote is the Key to Addressing Inequality in the Electoral Collage
Note: The STAR Voting team is non-partisan and our leadership team and membership comes from across the spectrum. We don't all agree on the best way to reform the electoral collage, and this issue is beyond our area of advocacy. That said...
The Electoral Collage as it functions today is another example of unequally weighted votes. You may have heard that one vote in Wisconsin is as powerful as 3 votes in California.
In the USA our presidents are not elected by the popular vote and there have been a number of recent presidential elections where the candidate who got the most votes lost. This can happen for 2 reasons:
First: The number of Electors each state gets isn't based solely on their population. Each state gets some electors based on their population and then they get 2 more per state. This gives states with a smaller population an advantage.
Second: Most states award all their electors to the candidate who won their state. It's called Winner-Take-All. The only two exceptions are Nebraska and Maine who do award electors proportionally.
There are a few proposals on the table to address this inequality and neither one requires eliminating the Electoral Collage or changing the constitution. One is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. States would pledge their electors to the winner of the Popular Vote. There is a concern though. What if that person only won the popular vote because of vote splitting? The popular vote is only as good as the voting method used in the first place. If this was paired with an equal voting method it would give us perfect representation.
Another proposal is to end the Winner-Take-All era and require each state to award their electors proportionally based on their votes. This solution would essentially challenge winner take all in court on the basis that it is unconstitutional for not offering equally weighted votes. It wouldn't offer perfect equality, but if successful, it would go a long way and help set an important precedent to uphold the Equal Vote. Learn more about this project from the group Equal Citizens.
We're in this fight together!
The fight for the Equal Vote ties right in with the work being done on other branches of the election reform tree: The outsized impact of money in politics, gerrymandering, and the electoral collage also have their roots in the fundamental inequality of our voting method itself. We're laser focused on our one piece of the puzzle, STAR Voting, but this proposal has the ability to unite the movement as we realize that we are fighting a three headed monster. If we hope to gain true equality in elections we have to fight together!
As we read above, The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that equality of voting - one person, one vote - means that the "weight and worth of the citizens' votes as nearly as is practicable" must be the same. In order for the Equal Vote standard to go into effect we need to prove that an Equal Vote is both possible and practicable. Every stride we take to elevate this issue and to create a legal precedent for a better democracy will help the movement as a whole.