Electoral Politics is Divisive, It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way


My third Democratic Party Convention as an elected delegate last weekend in San Diego was enlightening, having observed and perpetuated what makes advocating for electoral politics fun and energizing, yet divisive and alienating at the same time.

As an unapologetic, progressive-minded person who believes in the collective power of grassroots, intersectional organizing, it’s empowering to see how this year’s endorsements played out. However, less heartening is the acknowledgement that our  broken electoral system continues to propagate the notion that these decisions sometimes rely on voting for the lesser of two evils. While trying to find consensus, communities are being divided.

Often I’m alleged to be a purist who is uninterested in getting things done. Nothing could be further from the truth. While my motives are being questioned, the reality is, my values and principles are not adequately represented at any level of our government or party. Progressives may agree on a specific platform of issues in terms of transforming our society to be more equitable and inclusive for all, but we have many different strategies on how to achieve that ultimate vision.

In order for us to create a just democracy within our party and a government that works for  everyone, we need to transition our broken, winner-take-all electoral system into one that empowers all voters. We need a new means to reduce the influence of money in politics, discourage negative campaigning and instead foster civility among we the voters, and those who seek to represent us.

We need to have a way to elect candidates that mandates majority support with the opportunity for those in the minority to have a meaningful say. It should minimize “strategic” voting, inspire greater voter participation, and promote reflective community-based representation.

Such a system exists, and it’s called ranked choice voting (RCV) also referred to as instant-runoff voting. With RCV, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support, while also reaching out for second and even third choices. When used as an “instant runoff” to elect or endorse a single candidate like a mayor or party official, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters and is more broadly representative.

It’s encouraging to see that a bill has been introduced in Congress, known as the Fair Representation Act, that utilizes RCV in congressional districts to transition from the current winner-take-all system to proportional representation, based on the will of the voters. It also mandates an independent commission to draw district lines to end gerrymandering once and for all.

American democracy is cracked at the moment — not ruined, but damaged. However we are not powerless. Adopting ranked choice voting is a simple change we can make that would go far in fixing our broken politics.

James Albert is the Vice President of Administration with the San Bernardino County Young Democrats and elected delegate via San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee. He is a resident and community organizer in the city of San Bernardino, a chartered city that’s eligible to adopt the above reform.

Written by James Albert