Paul Hager for Secretary of State

Libertarian Paul Hager says election task force reforms "only cosmetic".

For immediate release, 28 September, 2001.

(Bloomington, IN) According to published reports, the Bipartisan Task Force on Election Integrity has offered 29 proposals intended to "streamline the election process and increase voter participation." Libertarian Paul Hager says that he is unimpressed by the proposals, which are "only cosmetic" in nature. Hager is seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination for Secretary of State next year and has been watching the activities of the Task Force closely.

"It's a funny thing that virtually every so-called election reform introduced by the two parties over the past 25 years has had the opposite of the intended effect," observes Hager. "The success rate of incumbents rises and voter turnout falls. This is not what the public wants, though it does serve the interest of the professional political class."

"We know what the public wants," Hager continues. "Polling data since the 1970s consistently show that voters want more choices on election day - many would like to see a 'third party' that would be co-equal with the two we've had since 1860. I can tell you with utter certainty that this will never happen as long as bipartisan commissions only tinker with the electoral system. The solution is not to unconstitutionally regulate speech or campaign finances. Rather, it is to replace the current flawed method we have of electing people to office with a system called Approval Voting."

Hager explains that whenever a voter has three or more choices, the current voting system - which is known as plurality voting - creates the possibility that if people vote for their preferred candidate, they will elect the candidate they least like. "Everyone knows this. People in 1992 who liked Perot had to consider that a vote for Perot was actually a vote for Clinton. Something is clearly wrong with a system of voting that tells you that you can't vote for the candidate you really like because it may elect the candidate you most oppose. Something is clearly wrong when a voter's best strategy is always to choose the lesser of two evils. Approval Voting eliminates this otherwise insoluble voting dilemma."

Approval Voting differs from the current system in that people can vote for every candidate they like for a given office and have all of their votes count. The candidate receiving the largest vote total wins. "Had Approval Voting been available in 1992, people who liked Perot, disliked Clinton, and found Bush an acceptable lesser evil could have voted for both Perot and Bush," says Hager. "With approval voting, a third party candidate like Perot is no longer a spoiler or a wasted vote, which removes a major impediment to the development of a viable third or even fourth party." Hager cites research by political scientists and mathematicians who study voting systems showing that third party candidates greatly increase their support level if Approval Voting is available. "For example, in 1980, when Independent candidate John Anderson ran for President against Carter and Reagan, he only got 7% of the vote in the general election. Had Approval Voting been available for the 1980 campaign, Reagan would have still won a landslide victory, but Anderson would have gotten approval votes from 40% of the electorate, putting him only a few percentage points behind Carter in 2nd place. This would have been a huge increase."

Another problem with the current plurality system that Approval Voting solves is when two (or more) strong candidates with similar views split the majority vote, which allows a minority candidate to win. Hager notes that this sort of thing is very common in party primary elections, which often have three or more candidates. "Vote splitting can cause popular candidates to knock each other out resulting in a minority or extremist nominee representing the party in the general election. Approval Voting will guarantee that weak candidates don't benefit from strong candidates splitting the vote."

Hager bluntly states that the current system effectively disenfranchises a large part of the electorate and that's why voter turnout continues to drop. "When the best the major parties can offer is two evils (a greater and a lesser) and when an attractive independent or third party candidate can only be a spoiler or a wasted vote, it means that most voters have no choice. It's no wonder that more and more people stay home on election day."

Hager is quick to anticipate and dispel the concern that adopting Approval Voting might be expensive. "Actually, it should cost the state of Indiana nothing to switch to Approval Voting. Current voting machines already have to handle at-large school board or judicial races where people vote for multiple candidates. The only adjustment needed to implement Approval Voting would be for the machines to handle single seat races the same way."

If Approval Voting is so much better than what we've been using in our elections, why haven't we heard of it before? "Good question," answers Hager. "Maybe it should be directed at people who participate in bipartisan task forces. Actually, there were a number of attempts in the 1980s to lobby state legislatures to adopt approval voting, but they were undone by the politics-as-usual crowd. No one in either of the major parties has ever been willing to push this reform. Eight professional organizations now use Approval Voting, however. The largest is the IEEE, an international organization of electrical engineers with over 300,000 members."

Hager aims to cut through politics-as-usual by running for Secretary of State, the office responsible for administering the state election laws. If elected, Hager intends to put together a "non-partisan" task force whose sole function will be to come up with a viable alternative to the current plurality voting method. Hager will see that representatives of the Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, and other parties are on the task force. He will also invite distinguished academics from the field of voting science to participate. One who has already expressed his willingness to participate is Professor Steven J. Brams of New York University and co-author of the 1983 book, Approval Voting.

"We know that most voters are fed up with the current electoral system. If I am nominated by my party next year, I will be the only candidate on the ballot proposing a solution. Thus 2002 will be one of those rare instances when the major parties split the vote. In this case, they'll be splitting the no-issue vote."

- 30 -