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   Majority Rules--or does it?


Majority Rules—or does it?

By Lynda Lambert

Four percent of those voting in the November 2000 election didn't want Bush or Gore. This means that 52% did not want Gore and 52% did not want Bush. No matter how you view that election, neither candidate had a majority of the votes.
Our election system is flawed. Yes, there are problems with getting a fair vote count, but that's not what I'm talking about. The primary election this past September 10 that retained Patricia Jessamy in her post as Baltimore City State’s Attorney because she received 44% of the primary vote—the majority, as it were—gives a false picture of her achievement.

Fully 52% of Democrats voted against her. (56%, if you count those who didn't vote at all for any of the three candidates running for that office.) And Republicans won't even really get a chance to vote against Jessamy, since they have no candidate opposing her in the November election. The problem was similar in the last national election. George Bush did not receive the highest percentage of votes among those who went to the polling booths. On the other hand, neither did Al Gore. Although Gore received more votes overall (50,996,116 to Bush's 50,456,169), the fact is that 4% of the those voting didn't want either of them. Which means that 52% did not want Gore and 52% did not want Bush.

If we are going to persist in offering three or more candidates for any one office, whether local or national, primary or general, I think it is time we changed the rules just a mite. My quick fix would be to make a rule that no one wins unless he or she wins more than 50% of the votes cast. But that would cause some problems if every race had a full slate. So, this is what I propose: What we should do is have open primaries—Democrat, Republican, Independent and whatever—all running side-by-side. Everybody runs; everybody votes. Out of those, the top two run in the November election.

This could mean that we have two Democrats running against each other; two Republicans. But what it would also mean is that we would have a clear winner in November. With only two candidates, one of them will have to receive 50% of the vote. There would be no third or 4th party candidate to draw off votes.

*Let’s assume for this example that voting machines work correctly and there’s no behind-the-scenes voter registration fraud here, okay?

If we'd done this in 2000, for example, we might have had McCain running against Bush—or Gore running against Nader. If we'd done this in the Maryland primary, Jessamy still might have won, but whoever came in second would have been running against her in November.

We think of ourselves as a country where the majority rules, but this has never been so. What we have instead is candidates who win with a percentage of a percentage. Example: where only 50% of eligible voters vote, and the winner gets, say, 30% of that 50%, that candidate was voted in by only 15% of the total number of eligible voters.

With open primaries and only two candidates guaranteed for the final election, one of them comes out the clear winner*. And the majority, for a change, would finally rule.

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This story was published on October 2, 2002.
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