Voices & Choices

The Presidential Debate and The Way Elections Should Be

The Presidential Debate and The Way Elections Should Be

The nation this week suffered through what many like the Washington Post’s Dan Balz called the worst presidential debate in living memory. There’s quite a difference between such debate brawls and the more civil debates we see in presidential primaries that are different in a key respect: inclusion of more longshot candidates. Parties see giving those candidates a voice as ultimately making their party more united and stronger.

Greater voter choice would make our democracy as a whole stronger. It’s time to embrace and accommodate it. One state shines the way: Maine. Voters approved and confirmed ranked choice voting for congressional and state elections in two ballot measures in 2016 and 2018, and this year the legislature extended RCV to its presidential election and future presidential primaries. We can take hope from Maine’s state motto of Dirigo (“I lead” in Latin) and slogan of “the way life should be.”

There in fact are additional candidates running for president this year. The Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee on every state ballot, the Green Party nominee is on ballots in more than half of states and the Constitution Party nominee on ballots in more than a third. Because of how our single-choice system works, however, such candidates are considered by the media typically for the impact they might have as “spoilers” rather than what they could contribute to a debate about our nation’s future.

If Maine’s laws were the national norm, that calculation would be reversed. Maine’s U.S. Senate election debates this year have included all four ballot-qualified candidates without any talk of “spoilers.” Given that more than three in five Americans support an enduring third party in a recent Hill poll and given the tenor of last night’s debate, we can’t enact ranked choice voting fast enough. It’s the way democracy should be.

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