Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Does A Close Race Do For Democracy?

With no definitive leader coming into the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, it almost brings a tear to the eye of we lovers of democracy. Citizens are more mobilized than ever, and people are getting out there and rocking the vote. Many experts are saying that this race could not only go through Tsunami Tuesday (formerly known as Super Duper Tuesday {formerly known as Tuesday}), but even all the way up to the last states to cast their vote (this could be your year, South Dakota!). These displays of passion and strongly held opinions are strengthening our decrepit system, awakening the apathetic, and providing meaning and legitimacy for the candidate who prevails.

On the other hand, do close races not dilute the effects of democracy? Since we have a winner takes all system, would we not prefer a leader who is able to rouse the vast majority of our spirits? The national elections have been decided by a few percentage points on either side for years now. 50.7% of voters stated their collective desire, and so their choice gets to rule over the remaining 49.3%. There are more fluctuating probabilities in a coin toss competition. I would actually be willing to bet that if everyone who voted also flipped a coin and wrote down that result on their ballot, the results of Senator Heads versus ex-Governor Tails would be more decisive.

Taken back a level, if we have two primary candidates, and one of them takes the sponsored candidacy by getting 51% of the registered democratic votes, and then goes on to take the national vote by 51%, then we've elected the first choice of no more than 25% of our people. Add on to that the fact that only about 50-60% of potential voters actually will roll out of bed and make it to the polls, we're left with a commander in chief who was preferred by about 15% of the population.

What's nice about the primaries is that it's not terribly likely to happen in that way. Since factors like momentum and a perceived ability to win it all play such a big role, it's expected that the final choice will have pulled away from their next closest competitor by a respectable margin. This is made even more likely when you consider the role of SuperDelegates. These mere mortals endowed with demi-god powers are a group of people whose opinion is counted as the equivalent of hundreds of people. They are given this awesome power by being heavily involved with the election process well before it got cool, and therefore they are believed to know what the candidates were like before they got all famous and sold out. Each state has a certain number of delegates to hand out based on population (rather than turnout), but the vote of each of these SuperDelegates is equivalent to one of the delegates. Since they are presumably less swayed by the ever-changing political winds when the primaries fan is on high, their steadfast vote based on sound evidence will often nudge one candidate to their cushioned victory.

To sum it up: The current symmetrical divide in this country that rears it's head once every four years seems to lead to a result that, were it a poll, would be considered statistically insignificant. We have figured out a way in our primaries to lessen the chance of having to blindfold ourselves and pin a tail on one of the donkeys, so how can we apply this lesson to the national election? After all, almost every state considers the number the delegates and SuperDelegates (it can differ for republican and democratic primaries) so why not apply this method to the national election?

Having a national pool of 'trusted experts' who could have a heavy say in the result of a national election may sound like a plea for corruption, however, if we choose respected community leaders, elected officials, and intellectual giants, then we might be able to actually do something good with this. They wouldn't be in charge of the entire vote, but when there is a statistical tie, wouldn't we prefer to have the final push for a solresult be decided by people who know what they are talking about? Too many of us admit that we aren't fully educated about all or even our preferred candidate, so why not leave the tie-breaker to the people who make it their job to know what these people are about? Let's make a deal, if we all shout it out and still can't come up with something better than 50/50, we'll call the revered professors, the respected journalists, and the people who know a thing or two about these people on the stage, into the room and let their votes weigh a little heavier. If it's still a near-even split, then it won't matter which one we choose so we might as well choose the one who got a little more rather than a little less.

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