An Alternative to Term Limits

It is often opined that term-limiting elected officials is the only way to reduce corruption in politics. This analysis misses the obvious problem of lame-duck representatives, with fully one third of an elected body having perhaps no incentive at all to please its constituents. This makes a representative ripe for purchase with no recourse for the body politic.

Yet the problem remains, how does one keep career politicians from subverting the democratic process? As I write this, the Federal Congress is trying to ram through legislation, perhaps even avoiding Constitutional requirements, that polls show a majority of Americans are strongly against. Clearly the ‘representative democracy’ is not functioning as such. A better system would require a four-step change:

First, end gerrymandering of Congressional districts. Everybody knows that districts are drawn to favor the incumbents unfairly and the two-party system, neither of which is healthy for the free-exchange of political ideas. There have been proposals for fair redistricting for more than half a century – any of them are likely superior to the brazenly corrupt method currently in place.

Second, implement a modern voting system that takes into account voter preferences and reduces strategic voting for non-preferred candidates. The best of these is probably the Schulze Method but any one that satisfies the Condorcet criterion is probably acceptable (the system must pick the candidate who, when compared with every other candidate, is preferred by more voters). The Schulze method was only discovered in the last decade, and is markedly superior to previous voting-system reform attempts, such as instant-runoff voting in the 1970’s which produced abysmal results. Organizations are rapidly and overwhelmingly adopting the Schulze method, and governments are now beginning to as well.

Third, end the political primary process. Only in Plurality Voting, the system we’ve been saddled with since the 18th Century, is such a process even necessary. In a Condorcet election, voters with a political party affiliation could simply rank all of their party’s candidates first, in their preference order, to maintain their strategic advantage. But a Republican who favored Democrat #4 over Republican #2 could also express that preference. Our current system does not allow this. This also gets local governments out of the business of supporting the private organizations called political parties for free (though certainly not free to those government’s tax base – how does an Independent feel about being forced to pay for primary elections?).

Fourth, require incumbents to achieve a threshold in the Condorcet election to stay in the race. If the first three steps aren’t enough to guarantee that a Congressman will pay attention to his electorate, requiring a majority preference (for example among the top half, though more thought needs to be paid to the exact level) certainly will. Without the preceding three pieces, though, this criterion simply re-enforces the two-party system.

Given all of these criteria, the winner of an election will best represent the people who elected him, and, if an incumbent, he will have broad support from among his constituency. This does not guarantee a corruption-free government, but it does provide strong incentives for a representative to represent, offers a broader variety of candidates to the People, and provides an outcome that will maximize the happiness of the voters while avoiding the danger of unaccountable representatives under a term-limits system.