Local View: Toward a more perfect union

Senator John McCollister | February 24, 2021

Our Constitution encourages us to pursue “a more perfect union.” The ratification of the Constitution in 1787, passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791 and subsequent constitutional amendments is testament to our striving for a more perfect union.

When we have an opportunity to improve our democracy, we should take that opportunity. Last week, I introduced a bill to improve our government and representatives in the form of ranked-choice Voting.

Our democracy began with just a few white, landowning men of means having the ability to vote. Suffrage later expanded to laboring white men, then immigrants, then African Americans, then women, then Natives and most recently 18-year-olds. Expanded suffrage has greatly enhanced citizenship and improved our representative democracy.

Under our current system, we regularly have candidates make it through the primaries that have far below 50% of voters’ support, even in their own party. Under ranked-choice, voters can vote their conscience without fear of losing any real influence, as their second or third choice vote may be the one that makes the difference. With ranked-choice voting, not only can every qualified voter vote, but we can make sure that every vote counts.

We are definitely at a point where we need to fortify our democracy. We can do that by making our elected officials work to gain the confidence of a majority of the people they will ultimately serve.

It is undeniable that we have seen an increase in polarization and legislative gridlock. Ranked-choice voting encourages collaboration and civility by ceasing negative campaigning. Instead, this system promotes campaigning that revolves around educating voters. Since candidates not only hope to receive first preference but second and third preference votes, this diminishes the participation in mudslinging behavior to avoid the alienation of electorate voters.

A plurality system, like the one we use now, allows whoever gets the most votes to win a seat. This means many candidates who never get to the 50% threshold still win elections under our current system.

By using ranked-choice, you guarantee that the winner has broad appeal. By pulling the attention away from the parties’ passionate minority wings, we may eventually start improving infrastructure, balancing budgets and improving education instead of focusing on divisive issues.

Using this system can also stop the practice of bundling positions, like abortion, the death penalty and climate change that fit into a party mold and would allow candidates to more accurately reflect the local political views in areas they represent. This also ensures majority support for election winners.

If we used ranked-choice, the fear of being “primaried” from a member in one’s own party would largely go away. More than one Republican or Democrat can potentially advance to the general election. Ranked-choice voting could even do away with primaries and thus save money.

In Nebraska, almost a quarter of our electorate are not registered Republicans or Democrats, and after the last several years, I venture a guess that less and less of us would want to identify with a party.

As Jefferson said in 1789, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” We need systems that benefit voters and not parties.

Americans can come together to find real solutions and adopt civil, inclusive, effective means of choosing our representatives. We don’t have to continue to wallow in the current toxicity of partisan politics.

The great bulk of Americans face common problems and can agree on many issues that face us as a society. Ranked-choice voting can allow us to address those issues with far less acrimony. Ranked-choice voting strengthens the power of everyone’s vote. That’s just good democracy and encourages a “more perfect union.”

Read the Op-Ed in the Lincoln Journal Star