Hello? Is this thing on?

The night I met my wife…my wife now, that is; she was still a stranger the night I met her…and I had to ask her twice if she wanted to grab something to eat, we ended up sitting at McCormick and Schmidt’s seafood restaurant in Washington, DC (I now know that all seafood makes her nauseous) and I told her that I think we should all strive to do in life the one Thing that nobody else will do, that won’t get done, if we don’t do it ourselves.

Fifteen years and a month later I still haven’t done that Thing. It might be time to get started.

The scary part is that the Thing that I fear might be on me to accomplish is saving democracy by persuading pretty much the whole world that the way we vote is broken. It’s not that nobody else knows this, but so far nobody else has managed to make much progress in changing things, or they are trying to change things in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons.

One reason I’ve procrastinated so long is that my half-hearted (by which I mean that I have never quit a job) attempts at evangelism have almost universally met with skepticism and apathy. Even my closest friends refuse to be persuaded. This is “David’s voting thing” and they are patiently accepting, but nobody is converted.

The part that completely blows my mind is that the part that’s broken is a minor, insignificant little thing. Most of the ills of democracy that we accept as necessary evils…partisanship, gerrymandering, corruption, disenfranchisement, the power of the extreme wings…could be eliminated or greatly alleviated by fixing this flaw, this bugged line of code at the heart of democracy’s operating system.

The reason it hasn’t happened is…and I know this is going to sound all conspiracy theorist…is that fixing this bug would kinda pretty much rip the carpet out from under everybody who currently has outsized political influence: powerful special interests, lobbyists, and…most significantly…the Democratic and Republican parties. There would still be parties, and they would serve a useful role in elections, but there would be more than two of them, and…this is the part that really terrifies them…most of their influence would end on election day. Politicians in office would no longer feel as beholden to them as they currently do.

(This is, of course, why this bug has not been fixed. Doing so requires a change in laws, and laws get changed by politicians, and politicians owe their position to their parties. That’s why Maine had to use a referendum, which even as I write this is in critical danger of being undermined by…the parties.)

I’ve rambled on more than I meant to and I haven’t even mentioned the Thing. It’s this: when voting, whether it’s for political office or for what kind of food to serve at the next office party, it’s more democratic…provably, mathematically so…to allow voters to choose multiple candidates. There are various ways to do that, but at its essence that’s the whole Thing I’m talking about.

When you do so, a whole avalanche of consequences are triggered, that can be summarized as: political power, currently concentrated in individuals and organizations, gets diffused out to the electorate, where it becomes hard to influence and control.

The purpose of this blog is to try to explain why and how this happens.

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