How the movement for Popular Vote elections threatens the future of American democracy

You turn on the television today, you watch the news, and you look at your political climate. You say to yourself that my country is more polarized than ever before and we just can’t get along with each other.

You look at the Congress and the Senate, and you see that nothing is getting done. You say to yourself that we are too divided today and we need to join together to solve our problems. Reaching across the aisle is the political term, but maybe the actual problem is not division at all. Maybe division is the solution, and our actual problem today is that we live in the opposite of a polarized society with a variety of viewpoints and ideas discouraged.

Ralph Nader calls it the two party dictatorship, because in reality today America’s two political parties are closer than ever before. In reality the two parties are passing more legislation together than at any time in American history, and maybe that is the exact problem we are facing.

I am a devout progressive and I have been a Democrat for my entire life, and I have many conservative friends who could call themselves Republicans. However, I have been so alarmed by the recent trend within both parities that are dissolving the very fabric of what made our parties great in the past. We need to address this before it’s too late to turn back. What makes a political party great is the idea that a variety of viewpoints can be represented no matter how big or small. A political party protects a minority viewpoint from being swallowed up by the majority viewpoint. In fact for most of our history we had more than two parties. We had Whigs, Federalists, Radical Republican Party, Democratic-Republican Party, Republican Party, Democratic Party. The bottom line was that at one point in history not too long ago, it was easy to tell apart political parties. We can’t really say that is the case anymore, and there is a good reason for that.

Up until really the election of Reagan and Clinton era of politics did we really dissolve the concept of party control of the chosen nominee. It used to be called the “favorite son” method of politics, which made it possible for a political activist in just one state to rise up and become the party leader. This is how FDR was elected four times by completely ignoring the southern delegation of the Democratic Party. Hubert Humphrey rose up to be the party’s nominee despite Eugene McCarthy getting majority popular support. This was how Nixon was elected, and how Jimmy Carter a relatively unknown Governor of Georgia rose up from the peanut farm to become President of the United States from just one state.

Carter announces campaign with mother, his wife, and his daughter December 12th, 1974. (US Archives)

Not too long ago in order to win over the hearts of a party, you only had to campaign in a select few caucus states which represented the demographic the party wanted to represent for their leadership. It wasn’t until 1976 that that all fifty states were included in the Republican primaries, and it wasn’t until 1984 that all fifty states were included in the Democratic primaries. The United States used to have what was called Fusion voting in many states, where you could seek nomination in multiple parties in any particular state. This is how Roosevelt and Kennedy were nominated by running in the Liberal Party as candidates and rallying support in a single state. The Democratic Party for example then chose to ignore other delegations. Richard Nixon became the President in a primary which included only 12 states. What this insured was that the party had control over nominating a leader they thought would represent their best interest. Would it be of any coincidence that in 1976 we got populist nominee Ronald Reagan to beat the Ford administration, and in 1984 we saw the Democratic Party moving to the right with Walter Mondale and then the Bill Clinton presidency from voting blocks in southern states that would ultimately make of the blue party what we see today. How did this shift happen and what changed the course of history?

Well after the 1980’s we started “opening” up our party elections by switching over from closed caucuses to open primaries in all fifty states. At the same time we opened up a new voter demographic called “independents” in this country. The reality is that 40% of the American voting population consider themselves independent, making them the largest voting block of the entire country. What that means is that they may either vote for Republican or Democrat in either election, and in other words they are moderate conservatives. Since we now have open primaries in the blue and red states, this moderate conservative base was now influencing party leadership for the first time in America.

Soon to be President Bill Clinton getting inaugurated with family in 1993. (Library Of Congress)

At the exact same time we started seeing Clinton, Al Gore, and Joe Biden who are really not labor progressives in the blue party which in the past was traditionally progressive, we started opening our elections and I find no coincidence in that. If you want any more proof of this concept then you can look at the 2016 and 2020 elections in both parties. In the Blue Party was saw Bernie Sanders fail to win in primary states in the South, but win by the majority in almost every caucus state in the Midwest and Northwest. At the same time we saw Donald Trump who reached out to moderates or the “silent majority” in the rustbelt, win every open primary but fail greatly in caucuses where party activists had greater control.

Caucuses are very particular in the fact that the party members have more control over who they vote for, and in other words it's an informed decision. You are forced to take the day off from your job to attend for the entire day. You don’t just show up with a pen and toss a dice if you can’t decide. You are forced to listen to many opinions and interact with your community. At the end of the day the entire building votes in one direction and you get behind a candidate. This is why Sanders did so well in caucus states. Conservative or moderate independents were not allowed to participate.

This is similar to how politics work in Europe. Throughout Europe and I’ll use the United Kingdom as an example, party leadership is chosen by the parties themselves in parliament. The political climate in Europe is very polarized and divided and that relationship among many different parties is encouraged. In the United States today we almost discourage division and find a varity of thought and viewpoint and ideas unacceptable. That is why no third party has ever risen in the United States in over a century.

The party of FDR, Truman who supported Medicare For All, Kennedys, and Jimmy Carter which was once a party which represented city labor unions, is now a party that only includes one Senator in the progressive caucus. Only 21% of Democrats in Congress consider themselves progressive. That begs the question which would be, what is the point of a political party if you can’t tell the difference between a Democrat or Republican in office?

In 2020 only 14 states still have closed primaries, and only 6 states have caucuses left. That means in 30 state party elections, there are moderate conservatives voting in blue and red primaries. Of course the largest independent voting block is influencing our elections, but the question is why does that matter? It matters because we are being lied to. We are being told that opening up our elections and registering in no political party is protecting our Constitutional right to vote. When in reality it’s dissolving the fabric that separates us from a democracy and a dictatorship.

Audience watching the infamous 2020 caucus delay for Democratic Party primaries. (AP/Photo)

Let’s take the 2020 Democrat caucus in Iowa as a perfect example of transparency. The Iowa results were delayed and not reported, because of an app failure. If this was a primary in an electronic voting state, it would have gone unnoticed. Iowa took a lot of heat for delaying the results both by national media and the DNC, but they delayed on purpose so they could report accurate results instead of rushing through.

Democracy didn’t lose in Iowa. CNN did.

If a variety of opinions are not separated and protected, then Americans will no longer be exposed to a variety of viewpoints. That has been supplemented with a media environment in America that is increasingly only controlled by a handful of corporations, making it even more difficult to get your point out there. A political party now has to register in more than one state in order to be considered, making it impossible for unknown activists to rise up like Nixon did in ’68 and Carter in ’76 from just one state.

Even more alarming is a new movement around the country to put into place what is called “ranked choice voting”. This system would further dilute partisanship and destroy the concept of a partisan party. With voters registered in no party picking their second or third favorite choice, it brings the vote closer to the moderate choice making it more difficult to elect real progressive or real conservative leaders. In 2016 in a ranked vote system, a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio may very well have won the election.

Ranked-Choice Voting Should Be Slotted Dead Last As Election Reform

San Francisco has had ranked choice voting since 2004 and they have witnessed what has happened to their election process. They have found out that it has actually hurt the chances of progressive candidates.

S.F. ranked-choice voting hurts progressive backers

This makes sense. Let’s say as a hypothetical that Bernie Sanders got more votes then Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries, but however he did not get above 51% of the vote. The party would then select from second and third choice picks, and many voters who may have chosen maybe a Martin O’ Malley or Jim Webb may have selected Hillary Clinton as their second choice. In that case we would pool from those voters and allow a more moderate candidate like Clinton to beat Sanders. In other words some candidates get to vote twice. Does that seem like a fair system to you?

Throughout history the Democratic nominee has regularly scored less than 35% of the vote. Jimmy Carter won his primary by capturing 39% of the vote. Progressive Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower won with 26% of the vote. Extremely progressive candidate LBJ won the 1964 primaries by only getting 17% of the vote. In a ranked choice system George Wallace the segregationist would have earned enough of a percentage to win that election, if enough voters chose him as their second or third choice. After all he was the original populist.

“When they wanted to disenfranchise African American voters, they came up with all sorts of crazy schemes. I put ranked-choice voting in the same category.” — San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (1996–2004)

I like to use this scenario. You scored a B+ in your class and everyone else got C’s and D’s. However the majority of students get to combine their votes together and end up getting an A-. Even though you did better the majority rules. We allow the losers to rise up to power in a mob mentality. This populism is what has become so dangerous about American politics.

What’s even more alarming is the movement since 2007 to push popular vote pacts on the state level, working around the electoral college by dissolving state lines. It’s called a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and so far 24 states have signed on to the idea of banding together. This should not be a partisan issues because think of the implications. If you lean to the left, conservative states can join together and create a “super-state” of a popular vote to overpower progressive ideas or the minority viewpoint. The same can be said for progressive leaning states as well. If you favor individual representation and control over your community votes, you should not support the idea of dissolving political districts. The congressional district is to be as equal in population to all other congressional districts, and this is to protect the minority viewpoint in the electoral college.

National Popular Vote bad for New Mexico

Political pundits like to scowl at the fact that party leadership is controlled by “corrupt special interests” or people who do not represent their members. However we have no one to blame but ourselves because we are the ones voting them in there. No matter how many corporations may donate to a political campaign, at the end of the day Americans have a pen and they can use it. The great problem with our political climate today is not that we are too polarized, it’s that we are increasingly controlled by the consolidation of ideas and lack of variety of political opinion. The only way you protect the future of the American political party is to give back party control to its leaders, by switching back to closed elections that keep out infiltrators. Also, no political party should be forced to hold any election in any state in America.

Do not mistake what I am saying in this article. It is your Constitutional right to vote, but it is also the Constitutional right for groups of Americans to form parties and control their elections and who they want to lead them. We must encourage further division and polarization because there is nothing wrong with the concept of separation and diversity. We are the only democracy in the world with only two parties in elected office. That is because we fail to recognize and protect the minority opinion.

Luvenia Suber, a social worker from Brooklyn, can’t vote in Tuesday’s New York primary protesting.

Primaries have also been involved in recent controversies of election fraud, and a classic example being the 2016 “Brooklyn voter purge”, in which New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that 200,000 voters had been illegally stripped from the registry and blocked from voting. Also we can witness real election fraud in states like Arizona, Michigan, Kentucky, and Texas which closed hundreds of polling sites before the 2016 and 2020 elections forcing voters to wait in outrageous lines. In a caucus election there is only one location where elected representatives of the party meet.

New York City Board of Elections settles lawsuit over voter purge

Another perfect example of rushing through was the Bush/Al Gore fiasco in Florida. You didn’t have any backup system. Fraud was absolutely rampant and gone unnoticed. There was no community involvement or representation. Bush was declared the winner without much protest because the recount was stopped. However this was a general election and given a Supreme Court case. If this was a party’s primaries no one would have blinked an eye. It would have gone unnoticed. That leads me to my next point.

Open primaries are about as undemocratic as there can be, and they have no basis in our Constitution. A lot of people like to believe that the United States Constitution gives Americans the right to vote, but you will find nowhere in our Constitution that says the people elect our President. It leaves election handling up to the states and it has always been that way. In fact we are not even a democracy. Many of our founders actually warned us greatly about the dangers of real democracy, as it was democracy that led to the collapse of Rome. The very definition of democracy is the majority rules. One majority dominates the dialog the minority is no longer protected.

For most of our country’s history we did not hold primaries. The electoral college chose our President and there was a party convention. As I pointed out above, the United States did not use primaries for their elections until the election of 1984. Since the day we started switching over to primaries we have been allowing the five largest cities in America to decide the election, creating a one party dictatorship, and creating the area of America known as the “flyover country” which completely disenfranchised voters. The 2020 election is an absolute perfect example of this flawed illusion of choice. In the 2020 election, Philadelphia decided to fate for every American in all fifty states. Does that seem fair? If it does not seem fair that is because it isn’t.

When we setup the first primaries the two parties lobbied the states to create what we call the “winner take all system”, which keeps one party in control of an entire state, and of cities for over a century. The reason we have red and blue states is because we disenfranchise the voters who lost. Let me put it this way. In Pennsylvania 38 out of 50 districts in the 2020 election voted red, and yet one city has allowed the state to become a blue state. New York State is another great example. Of the 62 counties, Democrats only won in 13 counties. Yet New York City has made New York a solid blue state for the last four decades. This does not just affect one party. How about Democrats in Alabama or Democrats in Texas? See how that works? It can be an extremely fair way of spreading out electoral power.

To make this clear, no developed country in the world has winner-take-all elections decided by popular vote. That would be extremely unfair. John Koza the Chair of the National Popular Vote nonprofit said that candidates would change to campaigning around the entire country rather than in swing states, but the reality is that our elections would be decided by one or two cities.

There actually is a name for it and this is a hopeful movement that is spreading through the country. It is called the Congressional District Method, and so far the state of Maine and Nebraska have adopted it. The idea is that one party does not get to dominate the vote, and instead delegates are awarded proportionally to the population for equity power. It would end the concept of blue and red states, and would help give power to third parties and end the monopoly. Its a real interesting argument taking place. The electoral college is a system based in the 18th century we are still using today, while are population has grown 8000%. Is it time we reform it? In fact that is how most of the world runs their elections. In most functioning democratic election in the world there are more than 10 parties that partipcate.

What Is The Congressional District Method?

In reality the real election fraud is not illegal immigrants but in open primaries by legal voters, and the illusion of free choice if the greatest tragedy that has ever happened to our election process. You don’t have a free choice if you have to wait in a voting line for 8 hours. You don’t have a free choice if your name was wiped from the registry in a primary state. You don’t have free choice to represent your party, if you have moderate independents (republicans) intimidating progressive voters in southern states. Unfortunately I don’t see us going back to caucuses or address this real concern any time soon. Too many Americans are fighting for a lost cause for open elections.

The fact that Iowa in the 2020 election is so well documented, is a testament to the community that was on the ground with cameras and recording devices. Eye witnesses accounts, community participation. That is what is completely devoid from an open primary. If Iowa was a primary the results would not have been delayed. The community wanted accuracy.

Just know that if you register in no party you are giving away your right to matter and your right in the political sense to vote. We feel that politicians and the parties they belong to today no longer represent their members then you would be correct, and that is because we have dissolved the meaning of party leadership and party control. It is no longer possible to vote for an idea if you are dominated by the supermajority of moderate conservatives. In my view we should take after how parties are developed in Europe, India, Australia, and Canada. There is greater freedom for minority power and diversity. This includes giving Senators back to state legislature votes. Diversity in power is what is completely lacking from American politics today.

Independent writer outside of Boston.

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