Response to Achorn

UPDATE: I’m reposting this, from November, in response to Beth’s post below about Achorn’s article about the ‘party lever’ system. I agree with the need for more pluralism in the Assembly and in RI and US politics at large. But this paragraph in particular demonstrates that Achorn’s missing the point:

Undoubtedly, Democrats are the more popular party in Rhode Island. But they hardly constitute 91 percent of the voter registration. Indeed, the biggest single block of voters are unaffiliated. They vote for the person, not the party.

We have a plurality-based system, not a proportional system. Plurality systems will always exaggerate the power of the dominant part. To get Republicans and indies elected in large numbers requires changing that system.

ORIGINAL POST: Let me start by saying that I tend to support getting rid of the straight-ticket lever. And I’m a math nerd, and have enjoyed reading TPublico’s analyses of recent voting patterns.

I believe that it’s incredibly important to work towards a true multi-party democracy. (I discuss this in detail here, in the context of proportional representation.)

But the notion that the straight ticket is one of the fundamental determinants of who wins elections in Rhode Island, again purveyed today in an Achorn colum, is baseless and condescending, to readers and voters.

Achorn writes, of the ‘pernicious’ lever’s propensity for getting Dems elected:

It certainly has done a marvelous job achieving these ends in Rhode Island, where in this month’s election nearly half of the tiny band of Republicans in the legislature were politically executed.

I decided to do my own analysis — took all of about 15 minutes — by actually looking at the outcomes of 2008 state rep races. I started with an absolutely insane, unsupportable assumption, that would skew the results as far as possible in favor of Achorn’s contentions: Namely, that not a single person who used the ‘straight ticket’ option would otherwise have cast a vote in the state rep race in which they voted. (That the Poor Louts couldn’t navigate their way down the page, or couldn’t remember the directions from their handlers, beyond ‘Vote for the Star!’)

If one makes this patently absurd assumption, there are precisely three races where the results would have flipped away from the Democrat: Districts 16, 33, and 46.

We’d have 2 additional Repubs, and 1 additional Indy in the House — And the Republicans would be at about 2/3 the strength they had last term. (About which Achorn whined quite a few times.)

If one makes a much more reasonable assumption — that half of the straight ticket voters would’ve managed to cast a ballot for the candidate of their favored party (fumbling and bumbling all the way, of course) — then every single Democrat who won on November 4th would have won anyway.

Now, this assumption is admittedly imperfect, as there’s no easy way of knowing at what rate straight-ticket voters would otherwise have cast ballots — it might very well be far higher than 50%. And yes, the lever probably makes a difference in an occasional election. But the point stands that it’s absurd to claim that the straight ticket ‘creates virtual killing fields for GOP candidates’ or even that it ‘seriously tilts the playing field against change.’

If the Repubs really want to achieve new relevance and win more seats, they need to run better candidates and support PR.

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