Is our election system really the best option?

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 11, 2000

As I set the magazine down beside me, the one thought that popped into my head was &uot;I’ve been duped.&uot;

Not by the article I’d just read, mind you, but by the American election system. The article, published in the November issue of Discover, was titled &uot;May the Best Man Lose.&uot;

Interesting enough, the article was published well before the current &uot;chad&uot; fiasco was born.

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Its premise was that our current system of choosing candidates by plurality rather than majority often leaves the most popular candidate out in the cold.

I’d always been taught our system was the best one, and really the only option available.

In case you’re like me and get the two words confused, plurality simply means the person with the most votes. If you’re talking about a race with more than one candidate this could be much less than 50 percent of the total. A majority means more than half the total. So a majority is always more than 50 percent.

So it’s quite possible that we can elect the candidate who isn’t the most popular choice.

How can this be?

The example the authors used was the failed candidacy of Sen. John McCain.

All through the early stages of Campaign 2000, McCain and his bus tour dubbed the &uot;Straight Talk Express&uot; were huge hits. The public loved him. The media loved him. It seemed he was riding high. Then he hit Super Tuesday, the day of reckoning.

With gobs of delegates up for grabs, Super Tuesday is a make or break day for candidates.

It’s also a good example of how our system sometimes fails.

With a candidate such as McCain, whose support came from both Democrats and Republicans, the system gets confusing. Under some states’ rules, voters can cross political party lines and try to vote against the most likely candidate of the opposing party. It can get quite confusing and quite ugly.

The scientists quoted in the article suggest America change the system by allowing us to vote for more than one candidate on election day.

Whoa, doesn’t that destroy the &uot;one man, one vote&uot; principle that I learned about in Mr. Norbert Tracy’s American government class in 11th grade?

Not exactly.

Under one alternative system, which I personally like, voters get to cast one vote for each candidate he or she thinks is qualified for office.

Like Ralph Nader and George W. Bush? Vote for both.

At the end of election day (barring any strange &uot;chad&uot; incidents) the candidate with the highest total should really represent America’s choice.

Now that’s a pretty bizarre concept for folks who have always adhered to the present system.

But think about it.

Voters who support the values of third-party candidates such as Ralph Nader don’t have to consider their support for him as a &uot;thrown away vote&uot; any more.

In the same vein, &uot;abnormal&uot; candidates such as McCain who appeal to adherents of both major parties, would also benefit.

Think about what would happen if such a system were in place and McCain, Bush and Al Gore were on the ticket. The candidate with the greatest approval by the largest number of people would win.

Isn’t that what we want to happen when we cast our votes?

Though I haven’t seen one taken lately, polls throughout the campaign showed that McCain had the highest approval rating of all the candidates running. So rather than squabbling over Florida’s electoral votes, we might be preparing for President McCain’s inauguration.

Under such an &uot;approval&uot; system, elections could turn more into nationwide consensus building exercises instead of civil war fought out in the courts.

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at