The False Promise of Having Multiple Candidates

People say that we need to have more folks appear on ballots to make elections fairer and get the right person elected. That’s all fine and good, and I’m 100% behind this effort to break out of a two-party system that is so inured in our culture.

There’s only one problem: You can only pick one candidate in most of these elections. The two-party system has defined how the elections are conducted, so why would we ever need to do anything but pick our first choice on the ballot and be done with it? Easy. If you can only pick one, and multiple people are on the ballot, all of sudden people start to ask themselves if they shouldn’t vote for a candidate who may not be their first pick in order to prevent a strongly-disliked candidate from winning.

This was the very same kind of discussion I had with some friends prior to the 2010 gubernatorial race in Maine. The Green candidate had dropped out and the Democrat fell under a cloud of disgust and resentment from her own party members for the dirtiness of her campaign. This gave an enormous boost to Cutler, the independent, but it wasn’t enough to counter the combined Republican and Tea Party support for LePage. He won with 38% of the vote, but the third-, fourth- and fifth-place candidates had an aggregate of about 25% of the vote. If the folks who voted for them or Cutler had been able to mark others as their second, third or fourth choice, would LePage have won?

I sincerely believe he would not have won. Of course, it’s impossible to tell since the alternative rankings were never recorded. This is why I will never support having more than two candidates unless the race has alternative (ranked choice) voting. I think everyone would get fairer elections if they did the same.