For this episode of the “Voices and Choices” podcast, I spoke with E.J. Dionne, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and columnist for The Washington Post. His latest book (co-written with Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann) is “One Nation, After Trump,” which outlines the decline of our nation’s politics and lists a series of reforms that the country should adopt to strengthen our democracy. We talked about those reforms – which include ranked choice voting and multi-member districts – and a number of other topics including partisan gerrymandering, vote splitting and why people should be optimistic about the future of our politics.
The following excerpt is from that interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Robinson: You talk about ranked choice voting and fair representation [as remedies to fix America’s broken politics] in your book. From your perspective, what kind of effect do you think that will have on our politics, if we could change the way we elect members to Congress?
Dionne: I think it's important for all of us who favor reforms like this not to pretend that anyone or even any group of forms will magically change all of the underlying social forces in our politics. I think these changes would make our elections more representative and perhaps just as importantly, underscore for voters that they have real options and that their votes really matter. Ranked choice voting, which is used in a number of other countries including Australia and Ireland, is a way to get rid of the problem that we've had in a number of elections, including arguably 2016, certainly in 2000.
Citizens who choose to vote for third parties – if I can call them that – end up pushing the election toward their least-favored candidate. You know the famous case in 2000 where one presumes that most of Ralph Nader's votes would have gone to Al Gore, at least the preponderance of them, and this would have pushed Gore over the top certainly in New Hampshire which would have been enough, probably in Florida as well.
With ranked choice voting, if you really are inclined to vote for a third party, you can put in your second option and if your third party candidate fails, then your vote will shift to your second choice. This makes a lot of sense, because it produces elections that produce clear majority governments – governments supported by a majority of the people. It encourages coalition building. So in one sense for people who are third party advocates, it gives them a chance to express themselves but within a context of what is going to be for some time I think, a two party system. It doesn't disenfranchise third party voters from having an impact on the overall outcome. I think this is a very good thing for democracy.