When Democrat Neil Abercrombie resigned his House seat to run for Governor of Hawaii, he set off a no primary, winner-take-all, special election to replace him. Despite the district being very Democratic-leaning, the Republican Charles Djou could win with a relatively small plurality of the vote because two other candidates are splitting the Democratic vote. The last poll from the Honolulu Advertiser shows:

Djou leads with 36 percent, former congressman Ed Case is chasing at 28 percent, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is trailing with 22 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided.

If Djou does win the seat on May 22nd, he is likely to only hold it for a few months, until the general election in November. When/if he faces a single Democratic challenger, he will have a much tougher election.

This is a prefect example of what is wrong with having single-member districts with “first past the post” election rules. It allows someone to win who does not best represent the district–the views of the voters–because the other side split the ticket. It also forces people to engage in “strategic voting” where they don’t vote for their preferred candidate, but instead vote for the person they think has the best chance of preventing their least favorite candidate from winning.

In a few days, we are going to see the problem with single-member districts with “first past the post” (plurality winners) election rules writ large when the UK holds full parliamentary elections. Because of how the voters are spread out, Liberal Democrats could win the most votes or second most votes, overall, but get far fewer seats than either the Conservatives or Labour. It is even possible that the Labour Party could get fewer popular votes than either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, but end up with the most seats in Parliament, which I think everyone can agree is not the best thing for a democracy.

Other countries use different electoral systems–like proportional representation, instant runoff voting, top-two runoff elections–and ome or a combination of those or others could be used to solve some of the problems that occur in our system and the UK’s system of single-member districts with plurality winners. These alternative systems don’t force people to strategically vote for the the lesser of two evils instead of the candidate that best represents their views.

Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com

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