It’s an open secret that the American public is unhappy with the two-party system. We don’t do much about it, probably because no one wants to give the election away to his/her worst choice. So here’s a proposed hack: neutralize the spoiler effect and facilitate subtraction from the two-party system by pairing Republican and Democratic dissenters.
Pair off voters who feel unhappily obliged to vote for major-party candidates, but who would prefer to be free to support third parties in the coming general election. Match each dissenting Republican with a local dissenting Democrat, as numbers permit. Pairs agree to meet and verify* each other’s vote for any third-party candidates (presumably not the same ones) by means to be agreed upon between them, thus escaping the party duopoly while not handing their worst choice a competitive advantage. In short, a pairwise vote strike from the major parties.
*Note that the form of verification will not be imposed on pairs from the outside. We think that the forms of trust, however minimal, can only be invented/discovered by singular individuals. Some pairs may be willing to proceed on a handshake, while for others a real solution may require filling out and mailing paper ballots together. We have no desire to tell people what an acceptable level of trust ought to look like; rather we’re looking forward to learning about the variety of forms it can take, and to facilitating the sharing of those forms.
The goal is not to influence the outcome of the 2012 general election directly. Instead, we hope to take a step towards the transformation of our political system by presenting a new number that’s never been counted before — the count of voters who’d choose to move past Rs and Ds given the chance. We think we see the possibility here of a sort of DIY electoral reform. Do we really need the permission of state legislatures and courts to make our exercise of the franchise more meaningful? Not if we cooperate in this curious way. We can hack the system two by two, making our votes track our preferences more closely, while not infringing anyone else’s rights.
Premise 1. Many of us feel that the two-party system isn’t working. We’re faced with the irony of dysfunctional partisanship in government overlaying equally dysfunctional consensus. Voting in national elections has real, if limited, political significance, and could have more, if it weren’t neutralized by the major-party duopoly. Many of us would therefore prefer to vote for third-party candidates.
Premise 2. The reason that we fail to act on our desires isn’t even that these candidates have no clear chance of winning! Rather, the reason is that defecting from whichever major party we find less bad hands a vote to the side we find worse, and the certainty of this bad effect outweighs the nebulous possibility of contributing to systemic transformation. Reasoning thus in advance, most of us conclude (rationally) that it’s not even worthwhile to learn much about third-party alternatives. Forced to minimize evils, we all wind up lending the major party duopoly a false appearance of legitimacy, and our own preference spaces remain largely unexplored. We don’t even think about alternatives, and this rational passivity is then mirrored back to us by politicians and the media as if it were the expression of our actual satisfaction with the status quo. This bitter logic is especially binding on voters in swing states.
Premise 3. Our final premise is that, through social-networking technology*, we have the possibility of changing the logic of the situation, so that a vote for a third-party candidate doesn’t equate to a vote for your worst-choice major-party candidate. (In game-theoretic terms we’re escaping a Prisoners’ Dilemma through transparency.) The form of cooperation we’ll need is odd and temporary, but, right now, this looks like one form that organized dissent from the two-party system can take in the coming election, aiming between (unacceptably) doing nothing and (unrealistically/counterproductively) directly campaigning for third parties. There is no potential for immediate revolutionary transformation within our situation, but a point of inflection may be accessible to us. Loosen the grip of the two-party system, make the fact of citizens’ dissatisfaction with it undeniably visible, and we’ll have accomplished a prerequisite to further change.
*Note that although we’re offering to help you find someone to pair off with, nothing essential rests on your getting partnered up through this site, or even on informing us that you’re doing it (although we’d be glad to know). Probably you already know someone who is as dissatisfied with the two-party system as you are and votes on the opposite side. If you do, pair yourself up, and let us know how you did it – or don’t!
Premise 4. There is no potential for immediate revolutionary transformation within our situation, but a point of inflection may be accessible to us. It would of course even be premature to announce the end of the major-party duopoly. But to bring about something recognizable as the beginning of the end of the two-party system might be in our power. Our hypothesis is that by making citizens’ dissatisfaction with the two-party system undeniably visible in electoral returns, without spoiling the (genuinely consequential) contest between Rs and Ds, we may effect a significant change in the way we understand our political system itself — no longer should politicians, the media, or worse yet, citizens themselves default to treating the two-party system as the inevitable form of the expression of the popular will. And this would matter going forward — we’d create a new demographic fact, a new constituency for third parties, a precedent for citizen-enacted electoral reform, and a new, untapped political potential, to be contested and deployed in the next election cycle.
1. We could be wrong about most/all of these premises. For instance, it could turn out that people are happier than they seem to be with the major parties, or that people are simply lazy and apathetic all the way down, as opposed to our apparent passivity being produced by the dilemma, or that one side harbors vastly more potential dissenters than the other at this moment. But we won’t know without some experimentation. It’s legitimate to find out.
2. We’re almost certainly not the first to have thought of this simple idea. There may be efforts afoot already, better organized, unknown to us, to do something like this in 2012. One legitimate outcome for this experiment would be to merge with an established effort. Or there may be reasons that this is a terrible idea that become apparent to everyone who thinks of it before implementation. We’re open to correction.
3. 2-by-2 is the invention of a small group of philosophy students in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Mexico. We are not agents of any political or corporate entity, nor beholden to any. We have no money and we don’t want yours. We suspect, and we suspect that many Americans suspect, that the role of money in politics is a big part of the problem. We want to see what can be accomplished here without any funding at all. We’d like to think that could eventually give the buyers and sellers of elections something to worry about.
In addition to the posted discussion forum, we welcome suggestions and inquiries at admin (at) 2-by-2 (dot) org. If you have thoughts or would like to get involved, please write to us – or just take the idea and run with it in your part of the world/web!