I didn’t vote for Evan McMullin, but I wholeheartedly agree with this recent op-ed in the Deseret News calling for “ranked-choice,” or preferential, voting because of his candidacy. Science Fiction fan that I am, I’ve participated in the balloting for the Hugo Award several times, and I’ve seen the strengths of this process in action. I like what’s advocated in his article, but I would like to add one one addendum to it, from the Hugo process, that I think would make a crucial difference.
You see, in the Hugos, there are five works competing in each category (for instance, Best Novel). But there are six options for voters to choose. The sixth one is always the same: No Award.
The No Award category is the “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” of the Hugo Awards. It exists so that Hugo voters can reject all the nominated works as being unworthy of receiving a Hugo.
This happened two years ago, during the Sad Puppies controversy. When a slate of works filled most of the categories, the Hugo voters resoundingly rejected the slate works, mostly by voting “No Award.” Now, there’s a lot of conservative VS liberal politics going on with Sad Puppies that I don’t want to get into here. A simple Google search will produce inflammatory commentary from both sides of the issue, if you’re interested. The point I’m making here is that the No Award system worked. Where the Hugo voters felt their award had been co-opted by unacceptable fringe elements, they had a trapdoor to make sure those elements didn’t win. And they didn’t.
We need something similar in our American electoral process. As some opponents of mandatory voting aver, not voting can be free speech as much as voting is. And adding an “I abstain” option to each list of candidates would be easy enough; just like with “No Award” in the Hugos, no votes listed after “I abstain” would be counted.
But I think we need something better than simple abstention. Or at the very least, in addition to. I think the “No Award” equivalent in American elections should be this:
I Call for a New Election
What this would do in practice is simple. Like “No Award” or “I abstain,” once you put a number next to this option, no lower numbers would be counted. This is the end of your voting. It means that every other candidate on the ballot (besides the ones you ranked higher than “I call for a new election”) is, in your view, unfit and unworthy of holding the office they’re running for.
What Happens if “New Election” Wins?
If, through the preferential voting runoff process, “New election” gains a majority before any actual candidate, we do just that: hold a new election. But in order to make sure that it really is a new election, all the people who were previously on that ballot are disqualified. Political parties need to put forth a new nominee, not the same one who just lost.
Now, in our current political climate, there wouldn’t necessarily be a lot of time for campaigning in that new election. That’s something parties would have to weigh in making both their original nomination and their nomination for the new election. Ideally, the new election would be completed and a winner declared before the incumbent’s term is up. We’ll have to provide, by law, for situations where that is not the case, including situations where “New election” might win multiple elections in a row. But it will be in all parties’ best interests to field acceptable candidates so that such situations rarely, if ever, happen.
Think of what this would have meant in the 2016 presidential election. Both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, were historically unpopular. Most voters felt like they were picking “the lesser of two evils” rather than voting for someone they supported. The aforementioned Mr. McMullin ran for president for exactly that reason. Think of how empowering it would have been to have had an option that directly expressed how voters felt! Voters who didn’t like voting for the lesser of two evils could have rejected both evils. And if “New election” had won, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have been on the ballot the next time around. We might have had Bernie VS. Rubio. Who knows?
And this works not just for presidential races, but for governor, senator, school board, you name it. It’ll even work in situations where just a single person is running—letting voters “throw the bum out” even if they don’t know who they want to replace him with yet. Lack of good choices would be much less of a problem for us.
This option would also give Americans a direct way to rebuke American political parties as a group. Americans will finally be able to say, “All y’all’s candidates suck! Pick new ones!” And the parties would learn from that quickly, believe me. Americans could force their political parties—on both sides—to get it right and field candidates that the majority of Americans find tolerable. And that, in turn, would cut down on political polarization and fringe candidates.
Plus, who doesn’t want the option of sticking it to the man? (Politically, at least.)
So call your state and federal legislators. Bug your city council. This idea works on all levels, from local to national. Let them know you want the choice to reject everyone and have that opinion matter. This nation is of, for, and by the people. We can do this if we want.
We just have to be loud enough.