Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Lesson In Elections

I got a little lesson in democracy elections from Juan Cole recently, in a discussion of the recent events in Egypt. He was writing of the problems regarding the two finalists in that election and I asked how that could be such a problem if they were the two which the people had chosen. How, I asked, was a win by one of them going to lead to “blood in the streets?”

He pointed out that the initial election had a great many candidates, and that between them these two guys commanded only 40% of the vote. “So,” he says, “by the vagaries of the election system, a plurality of Egyptians was disenfranchised.” Meaning, in simpler words, that 60% of the voters don’t want either one of these guys. Good point.

Why does that sound familiar? Oh, yes, it’s all the Democrats who admit that they don’t want to reelect Obama, but will “hold their noses and vote for him” anyway because… Well, you know the reason, God knows it’s been said often enough. So a lot of Democrats can relate to those Egyptians. We also don’t want either one of those guys.

Actually, in American presidential elections, “I don’t want either one of those guys” is pretty much the norm, so I don’t know what those Egyptians are so upset about.

The weakness, in Egypt, is a system where the two highest vote getters proceed to a runoff election. If you have a large number of candidates, the vote is heavily splintered and it’s almost guaranteed that you will get at least one candidate in the final two who is not sufficiently popular to be really legitimate. It’s not hard, in fact, to get two of them.

Interestingly, that’s the primary election system just adopted by California. Voters were tired, it seems, of all the partisanship. It’s not clear that voters actually were tired of the partisanship, but a group of people who sponsored one of our ubiquitous propositions was; it got on the ballot and sufficient money was spent on mostly false advertising for it to pass. With California’s proclivity for picking precisely the wrong solution to every problem, I would have been surprised had it not passed.

And the Egyptian problem is already at work in San Diego. We have five candidates for Mayor, parties not named, on the ballot and nobody wants any one of them to be elected, so we are guaranteed to have two minority candidates in the runoff.

But I don’t think there will be “blood in the streets” if the wrong one wins.

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