Want Politicians to Prioritize the Greater Good over Partisanship? Change Election Rules, Speakers Say

Posted on Categories Election Law, Public, Speakers at Marquette

You want to do something about the partisan polarization that puts the United States Congress into frequent gridlock? Katherine Gehl and Austin Ramirez say there is a solution that has nothing to do with any specific policy or how people define themselves when it comes to partisanship: Change the way Congress members are elected.

“It turns out what really matters is the system, the rules of the game,” Gehl said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program posted on the Marquette Law School web site on April 8, 2021. The game she referred to is the way politicians get re-elected. Single-party primary elections motivate them to take highly partisan positions that play to small, but decisive blocks of voters within their party.

“Currently the system pushes – forces — the sides apart,” Gehl said. What’s best in the big picture doesn’t count the way that it counts to do what’s best for winning a party primary or keeping others from launching primary challenges.

“Our task is to make keeping the job the same as getting results for the country,” she told Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy.

Gehl, the former CEO of Gehl Foods, and Ramirez, CEO of Husco International, both companies based in the Milwaukee area, are co-founders of Democracy Found, an organization promoting what they call final five voting. The system would lead to winners who are motivated to appeal to the most voters and who are supported by at least 50 percent of voters, they said.

Ramirez said that at its core, the problem that makes Congress so divided isn’t a matter of policies. “We have an incentive design problem,” he said. “We don’t need different people, we need different incentives.”

In final five voting, all voters could vote for up to five candidates for an office, ranking them in the order of their preference. If one candidate was the first choice of more than 50 percent of voters, that candidate would be the winner. If no one reached that threshold, the candidate who got the fifth most first-choice votes would be eliminated and second-choice votes for that candidate would be assigned to the remaining four candidates. The process would continue until someone got more than half the votes.

Gehl said such elections would not necessarily change who wins, but would change the incentives candidates have to appeal to voters overall.

A proposal to adopt such a system in Wisconsin for federal elections, but not for state offices, has been introduced in the state Legislature and Gehl said it has bipartisan support from more than 20 current legislators. Ramirez said the proposal can appeal to people who are very liberal or very conservative and who agree on little except wanting democracy to function better.

Democracy Found is working on building for support the idea across the country. Gehl said she hopes many states will have referendums in 2022 on adopting final five voting.

Ramirez said the change in how to conduct elections would not solve all problems, but it would have large positive impact.

The discussion of the idea may be viewed by clicking here.



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