Letter: A Better Way to Choose Candidates

One important angle that has been ignored in most coverage of the Montgomery County executive race is the impact that better voting systems than plurality could have had on it. For example, in the Democratic primary, Marc Elrich was able to win despite receiving the support of just 29 percent of the voters. He was by far the most anti-development candidate in the race, meaning that 71 percent of voters picked someone less extreme.  Marc Elrich  Usually, 71-29 would be considered a landslide result. But because anti-Elrich voters were split between five candidates, their voting power was diluted. Had Elrich had to face any single opponent in a head to head race, he would have likely lost by wide margins; because the other candidates’ views were closer to the others’ than to his, his single opponent would have picked up most of the voters whose first choices were sidelined. But our “pick one candidate and shut up” plurality voting system assumes – incorrectly – that if a voter does not get his first choice, that he does not care about who among the other candidates wins. When multiple candidates with similar views enter a race, they split the vote, causing a viewpoint to be defeated by its own popularity. Vote splitting causes plurality to favor extreme candidates, as centrists face competition from both sides of the spectrum, whereas extremists face competition from only one side. It also punishes political participation, as running for office can cause someone you disagree with to get elected. This is why some people are upset with Nancy Floreen’s independent candidacy for county executive; as they fear that she will cause Republican Robin Ficker to win by taking away votes from Elrich but not getting enough for herself to win. Fortunately, there are better ways of voting. One such method, Approval Voting, eliminates vote splitting by not limiting the number of candidates a voter can choose (making it better than the ranked choice instant runoff system used in Takoma Park and other communities around the country, which does not fix this problem). So voters can vote for all of the candidates that they like, not just one. Candidates don’t have to worry that they will take away votes from people they agree with on many issues. Approval voting’s main weakness is that it cannot capture nuances in opinions between “completely good” (approve) and “completely bad” (disapprove). Another system, called score voting, can. In score voting, voters give candidates scores, such as 0-5 or 0-10. The candidate with the most points wins. Essentially, it is approval voting but with intermediate options between the two extremes. This gives voters more freedom, as they can not only indicate that they like multiple candidates, but also how much they like them. Plurality voting has performed poorly in the county executive race by creating election outcomes that differ from public opinion. In the Democratic primary, it led to the nomination of a candidate who would probably have lost to every one of his opponents in a one on one race. It threatens to do so again in the general election by allowing Robin Ficker to win. If we used a system such as Score or Approval Voting, it would be much harder for that to happen. People need to be aware of the numerous problems with plurality voting, and what the alternatives are. — David Hinds David Hinds is a recent graduate from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, and was a member of the school’s delegation to the Youth and Government mock state legislature, where he presented a bill on this topic. He will begin studying Statistics at the University of Toronto in the fall.

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