America is not a democracy


In the Jan. 11 edition of the West Valley View opinion section, a former eighth grade civics teacher proposes changes to “improve” our electoral system. He first describes how he taught his students that the founders “designed a system to protect democracy.” Unfortunately for his now misinformed students, the word democracy appears nowhere in our nation’s two most fundamental documents — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The founders saw democracy as another form of tyranny, and therefore laid the ground rules for a republic (see Constitution Article IV, Section 4), a limited government designed to protect liberty, not to foster democracy. Calling America a democracy instead of a republic obscures the real meanings and principles of American government. Segueing to his proposed changes to the electoral system, the author posits that ranked-choice voting “solves the problem of vote splitting and spoiler candidates,” while in actuality, it does precisely the opposite. In this system, candidates with less support often surpass candidates with more support, as was the case in Alaska’s recent congressional special election. In the 2010 Australian House election, ranked-choice voting gave the victory to the Labor Party even though the Liberal-National coalition got the majority of first-place votes. In other words, more voters wanted a center-right government than a left-wing government, but ranked choice made sure that did not happen. In the mayor’s race in Oakland, California, in 2010, the candidate who received the most first-place votes lost the election to a candidate on the strength of nearly 25,000 second- and third-place votes after nine rounds of redistribution of votes. Ranked-choice voting also disenfranchises voters, because ballots that do not include the two ultimate finalists are cast aside to manufacture a faux majority for the winner. It is only a majority of the voters remaining in the final round, not a majority of all the voters, who actually cast votes in the elections. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill expanding ranked-choice voting because it is “overly complicated and confusing” and “deprives voters of genuinely informed choice.” Open primaries are an even worse idea. The point of primaries is so that people with very specific values have a chance to pick the candidate who best represents those values. With open primaries, though, people who share specific values don’t get to pick their champion. Instead, the primary is just a pre-election with the two top candidates facing each other in a final election in November. We must be vigilant against so-called reformers who want to change process rules so they can manipulate election outcomes to obtain power. The aforementioned reforms would actually make the electoral system worse. In 2005, the nonpartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, found that the “electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.” The commission issued a report that proposed a uniform system of requiring a photo ID to vote in U.S. elections. Those opposing such commonsense measures to ensure integrity in U.S. elections are not motivated by a concern for democracy but by partisan interests. Despite the noted inaccuracies, the author does conclude his essay with sage advice: “Do your own research and make your own decision.”

Steve Harrison, Buckeye