At the beginning of the month I posed the following question to my Social Media:
“Is it important to you to have female representation in government? Or is it only important to you to have female representatives if they are representing your specific political party?”
And a friend of mine responded:
“I definitely do not support women over men if they do not align with my values. White women have been instrumental in the buildup of our white supremacist laws and brutally racist history. White women have always been complicit in racism and misogyny. If a woman is going to continue to push forward policies and practices that uphold our racist and sexist status quo, I am not going to support her.”
And she is 100% correct. For sure.
So I posed:
“How do we solve gender inequality in political representation?”
She responded with:
“By electing women who don’t climb to the top by trying to out-misogyny men and burying other women, especially women of color.”
To which I responded:
“Right, but people who don’t align with your views are not going to elect those women. So then we are at a stand still. Republicans don’t vote for Democratic women and Democrats don’t vote for Republican women… and then we have primaries like this year’s where people who would have voted for Elizabeth Warren chose not to because they didn’t think she would win. So we don’t actually elect women… at least not enough to make us equally represented. And the spiral of women not being seen as good leaders continues.”
After more exchanges, my friend wrote:
“But like…Black babies are getting murdered and police officers get away with it. Kids are still in concentration camps on the border. They don’t care about THOSE women. They don’t care about THOSE mothers. Yes, it sucks that women get asked “How do you have time to hAvE iT aLl?!?” But the erosion of human rights is a far bigger concern, IMHO.”
And here it is. The desperate fear of the consequences of “They” being in power. And that’s not to say she is WRONG to have those fears. Fear is just the root of why women and BIPOC are unable to obtain political power in the US.
The vilification of the “They.” The fear that “They” will erode our human rights is worth the sacrifice of cis white men holding all the power in perpetuity as long as “They” — liberal cis hetero able-bodied white men — protect us from the “They” — conservatives and their evil agenda (regardless of their gender, race, creed, or orientation).
And I can imagine my Liberal friends reading this (if they’re reading this) nodding their heads profusely and saying YES! I much rather a liberal cis hetero able-bodied white man be in power than a conservative, queer, Black woman with a disability if she’s going to cage immigrant children and prevent me from accessing reproductive care.
The thing is, “They” have a “They” too. The other side holds just as strong fears that the “Liberal They” will erode their human rights as well and is worth the sacrifice of cis white men holding all the power as long as They — conservative cis hetero able-bodied white men — protect us from the other “They” — liberals and their evil agenda (regardless of gender or race, creed, or orientation).
So, we just have white man after white man deciding what’s best from women and BIPOC forever and ever and ever. And I don’t think that’s okay either!
In fact, because I was debating that people should vote for women even if the candidates don’t completely align with their views (and even if they think they won’t win — i.e. Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic Primary), a man that I have known since I was TEN, who was my high school sweetheart, told me that he never wanted to speak to me again. And we agree politically on, like, everything else other than this. We have since made up (I think?), but still. It’s all-or-nothing, do or die in our country’s political climate right now. If you’re not with us completely, you’re against us completely, which leaves more people feeling disenfranchised and forgotten.
Vilification is by Design
Vilification and divisiveness is not unique or some unintended by-product of the two-party system; it is the design of the two-party system.
If you are so afraid of Liberals opening the borders and allowing members of gangs and drug cartels in to invade our cities and cause unimaginable harm to our society, if you are so afraid of liberals allowing the infinite number of fetal murders and the possibility that your right to practice and share your faith will be infringed upon if Liberals are in power, you will vote for the Conservative candidate, even if they are an asshole, even if they admit on tape to sexual assaulting women, even if they are shallow and have no moral compass, even if they mock a man with cerebral palsy, even if they have cheated on their wives with multiple people and paid off sex workers to not disclose the details because they are better than the alternative. They are the lesser of two evils.
Likewise, if you are so afraid of Conservatives’ rampant militarization of the police and the unjust imprisonment of immigrants and refugees at our country’s borders and if you’re so afraid of corporations being allowed to pollute our water and air and defunding of Planned Parenthood and the Post Office, then you will vote for the Liberal candidate, even if they are creepy, even if they’ve said racist things, even if they’ve said sexist things, even if they’ve been accused of sexual misconduct, even if they went out of their way to discredit a witness who was testifying about the sexual assault committed against her. It is worth it because they are better than the alternative. They are the lesser of two evils. (And the person you really wanted “wouldn’t have won.”)
EACH party plays to the fears of their constituents to get them to vote OR ELSE they have to face the dire consequences of the other party’s leadership. This isn’t an accident because it works! Even FairVote (an organization dedicated to creating Ranked Choice Voting across the country) uses the tactic of playing to people’s fears in their Activist Tool Kit.
“3. Create a Sense of Urgency… if we’re ever going to make progress on all the issues we care about, we need to switch to [Ranked Choice Voting] now.”
And this constant fear-mongering causes extreme day-to-day anxiety, it causes schisms between friends and family members, and it divides the country, leaving Congress deadlocked unless the President, Senate, and House all are dominated by one party (a total dream for either party, but not so much for the rest of the country.)
How do we get the “Lesser of Two Evils”?
About 11% of eligible voters cast their ballots for primaries. That means 89% of voters do NOT vote for the primary candidate. (There are a slew of reasons, including voter suppression techniques at the top of this list. Because voter suppression requires an entire essay dedicated to it, I will save it for another essay.) Even in the very contested 2020 Democratic primary, the average voter turnout per state was 22% (The highest turnout was in Montana at 45.6% and the lowest in North Dakota at 2.6%). This year’s average is DOUBLE the historic average… but uh… that still means 78% of people didn’t vote… and that’s pretty crappy.
If you are one of the 11% of people who know who the candidates are, who find out where your polling station is, and who takes time off work (most often unpaid) to travel to the polling station to cast your vote, then you probably feel very passionately about the candidate you are voting for. And people do not feel very passionately about moderate candidates. They do not feel very passionately about candidates who agree 90% with their views, but differ 10%. And certainly not for candidates who agree 80% with their views, but differ 20%. They do not take lightly to candidates who veer off the party platform even a little bit — Democrats against abortion, Republicans for abortion; Democrats against open borders; Republicans for open borders; Democrats who don’t believe in strict environmental protections; Republicans who do believe in strict environmental protections; etc. etc. It’s all or nothing.
We don’t have middle ground. We only have candidates that appease the 5.5% of very passionate people in their party who are willing to vote in the primary.
This makes it so far fewer women and minorities run for office because they face the dreaded question: “Can they beat the opposite party’s candidate?” (Can they secure the 5.5% of voters who vote in the primary with more-than-likely extreme left or right views?)
If the answer is “yes” or if the answer has nothing to do with gender or race, then the following wouldn’t be true:
At the Federal Level:
Women constitute 127 out of 535 Congressional seats.
BIWOC constitute 48 out of 535 Congressional seats.
LGBTQ constitute 10 out 535 Congressional seats.
At the State Level:
Women constitute 90 out of 311 Executive positions (Governor, Lt. Governor, as well as other positions like State Attorney)
BIWOC constitute 16 out of 311.
Women constitute 2131 out of 7,383 State Legislature positions.
BIWOC constitute 545 out of 7,383 State Legislature positions.
LGBTQ constitute 147 out 7,382 State Legislature positions.
And these are the highest numbers EVER.
There are 34 LGBTQ mayors in the country and only 10, TEN, BIWOC mayors in our entire country. And Mary Casillas Salas of Chula Vista, CA is the ONLY Latina mayor in the United States at present. THE ONLY ONE, FOLKS!
More often than not, people rather go with the “safe” cis, white male candidate than take “a risk” that the opponent will win.
And the white male politician train keeps on chugging along.
According to Gallup, only 28% of Americans identify as Republicans, 29% identify as Democrats, and 38% — THIRTY-EIGHT PERCENT — identify as Independents. In spite of their numerousness, Independent and Unaffiliated voters have little influence in Congress or in most state legislatures. So why is it that we don’t have more independent candidates running?
Independent and Unaffiliated candidates don’t get money from the DNC or RNC (or the PACs that support either Democratic or Republican candidates). And winning is in the money — to market, to have a team, to have and manage a website, to travel, to have a speech writer and a personal assistant to keep you organized, and yadda yadda yadda.
If they don’t have money to campaign, they won’t win.
The Spoiler Effect.
“If you vote for Jill Stein, you’re taking a vote away from Hillary.”
“If you vote for Gary Johnson, you’re taking a vote away from Trump.”
“If you vote for Bernie Sanders, you’re taking a vote away from Biden.”
When a “third-party candidate” enters the race, they always split the vote with one of the Two-Party candidates. If a progressive third-party candidate enters the race, they “steal voters” from the Democrat. Likewise, if a conservative third-party enters, they “steal voters” from the Republican. When we can only choose one candidate on the ballot, The Spoiler Effect will always exist, keeping us trapped in the two-party system.
AND THIS BENEFITS BOTH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS.
They have a duopoly (like a monopoly but with two entities sharing the power and wealth) on our government, making it impossible for moderate, independent, unaffiliated, progressive, libertarian, green, or any other political ideology in the future, from establishing any fraction of political power. If Democrats/Republicans only have to share political power with one opposing party, they only have to focus their energy and resources on beating one opponent instead of three or instead of five, like with…
Ranked Choice Voting
I had never heard of it before, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Voters get to rank their favorite candidates in order of preference. This can allow for multiple candidates to be ranked — not just two — not just four. If your first choice is mathematically eliminated, your vote still counts toward your second choice.
I conducted an experiment with my friends (and friends of friends). I asked them to rank the following candidates (in an imaginary election) from 1st to last choice.
Joe Biden (D)
Hillary Clinton (D)
Ted Cruz (R)
Howie Hawkins (G)
Gary Johnson (L)
Jo Jorgensen (L)
Bernie Sanders (I/D)
Jill Stein (G)
Donald Trump (R)
The list consists of the Top 2 Democratic candidates from 2016 and 2020, the Top 2 Republican candidates from 2016, and the Libertarian and Green Party candidates from 2016 and 2020. (I marked Bernie as an Independent/Democrat since he ran in the Democratic primary, but if we had Ranked Choice Voting, I think he’d run as an Independent).
Here were the results of 33 participants (17 votes would be needed to win a majority)
No one has a majority of the votes yet.
I eliminated Howie Hawkins and Jill Stein.
Jill Stein’s singular voter chose Hillary Clinton for their second choice making her tied with Donald Trump.
No one has a majority of the votes.
Donald Trump pulled ahead after the elimination of Joe Biden, Ted Cruz, Gary Johnson, and Jo Jorgensen.
But we know that the Clinton voters’ second choice is not likely to be Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders 20
Donald Trump 13
These results are, of course, fictional and skewed based on who I could get to participate. It’s only an example. But it demonstrates how a “Third Party” candidate could stand a chance.
How Does Ranked Choice Voting Help Women and Minorities?
- Ranked Choice Voting eliminates The Spoiler Effect. If another BIPOC ran for office when Obama ran against McCain, there’d be concern about “splitting the Black vote.” I mean people are talking TODAY about the fear of BIPOC voting for Kanye West instead of Biden! In a ranked choice election, anyone can run without having to worry about stealing the “female vote” or the “Black vote” or the “Queer vote”. In a ranked choice election, women and BIPOC don’t get discouraged by political party gatekeepers who prevent would-be candidates from running in the first place.
- Positive campaigns are more effective with Ranked Choice Voting because candidates have an incentive to find common ground with one another as they seek support from their competitors’ supporters. Candidates focus on their similarities between the other candidates so they can be voters’ second choice, if they’re not their first already. One reason women and minorities (who are already forced to live in a sexist, racist society) avoid running is because of the potential mudslinging and negative campaigning. It takes an emotional toll. In an environment with more coalition-building and grassroots community campaigning that focuses on the positives and strengths, perhaps more women and BIPOC would choose to subject themselves to political campaigning. (Honestly, I am a queer woman, and the thought of running for office, even though I’m educated and involved in my community and have historically used my voice to lift up others and would be a good leader, STOPS immediately when I think about the sexism, unfair press, untrue accusations, and the onslaught of brutal criticism my female friends who are running for office are being subjected to currently. It is WAY more than the cis straight able-bodied white men who are running, and it is GROSS.)
- Ranked Choice Voting puts the spotlight on ISSUES rather than PARTY. Debates circle around policies and issues facing voters rather than how evil the Democratic/Republican parties are. This allows Progressives who don’t want to run as Democrats and Libertarians who don’t want to run as Republicans as well as Independents and Unaffiliated candidates to enter the ring and discuss issues rather than tow party lines. It allows voters who don’t identify as either a Democrat or a Republican to find their home in the middle (or somewhere else entirely!)
- Ranked Choice Voting ensures that candidates win a TRUE majority rather than just a plurality. The person who wins represents the support of the most people overall, not just the most people who voted for them. In the 2016 Republican primary, Trump won 44.9% of the votes. I wonder what would have happened if Marco Rubio and John Kasich’s votes were distributed between Trump and Ted Cruz (or if the other candidates hadn’t dropped out early).
(I also wonder what would have happened if all 50 states primaried at the same time so that voters in states who primary later in the year don’t feel pressure to vote for someone they dislike!)
We Can Make It Happen
It’s already happening in cities across the US and in the state of Maine. Slowly but surely we can advocate for fairer elections that are more inclusive of all view points and not just those from either side of the aisle with the most money.
We can start at the local level. Start by reaching out to your local town leaders and discussing your desire for fairer elections. Join an already existing group or start your own.
When momentum is garnered, the movement can advance to the state levels and eventually (hopefully within my lifetime) to the national level.
Despite Historic High, LGBTQ Still Underrepresented in Elected Office
FairVote Activist Toolkit
Ranked Choice Voting
RCV and Representation
Voter turnout rate in presidential primary elections in the United States in 2020, by state
Voting Systems by Country
Women in Elective Office 2019
Women of Color in Elective Office 2020
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