Ranked choice voting for statewide executives?

Below I’ll present passages explaining briefly what ranked choice voting is and then present historical evidence as to why the system might be particularly (perhaps uniquely) suited to the constitutional role of a statewide executive. The latter case I have drawn from the constitutional debates that shaped the late 18th century creation of a governorship model that spread from Massachusetts to the eventual 50 states (as well as influencing the original U.S. setup).


The New America Foundation and FairVote, June 2008, on what instant runoff ranked choice voting is, procedurally:

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is an election method that determines the choice of a majority of voters in a single round of voting without the need to conduct a separate runoff election. As a majority voting method, IRV is ideal for single-winner offices such as governor […] In recent years, IRV has been implemented for local elections in several American cities, including San Francisco (CA), Cary (NC), Hendersonville (NC), Takoma Park (MD), and Burlington (VT).

An explanation of mechanics and outcomes, also from FairVote:

Ranked choice voting (RCV) describes voting systems that allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates able to combine strong first choice support with the ability to earn second and third choice support. RCV is an “instant runoff” when electing one candidate…
– Gives voters the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidate.
– Empowers voters with more meaningful choice.
– Minimizes strategic voting.
In a single seat ranked choice voting election, sometimes called instant runoff voting, votes are first distributed by first choices. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.

Now let’s turn to a 1780 theory on the role of a statewide executive office from the constitutional debates of the State of Massachusetts, described and quoted by Eric Nelson in his 2014 book The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding (pp. 176-177):

But the most extraordinary response to the proposed constitution came from the town of Wells, far to the north of Massachusetts (in present-day Maine). Like the Groton committee, the drafters of the Wells report began by proposing that “the Governor might have a [full] Negative on all Acts of the Legislature.” “We think it very necessary,” they explained, “that the Independence of the Executive and Judicial Departments be well secured – Nor can We conceive of how this can be done effectually unless there be a Power lodged somewhere of negativing such legislative Acts as tend to destroy or violate this Independency–And We are clearly of the opinion that the Governor will be the most fit person to be intrusted with this Power; he being the first Magistrate and the Sole Representative of the whole Commonwealth.” But the authors then added an excursus that was entirely their own. The governor, they insisted, will constitute “the Center of the Union to all the several parts and members of the political Body; who is chosen and constituted by the whole Community to be in a peculiar manner the Guardian of the Constitution and of the Rights and Interests of the whole State–All the Individuals have a like Interest in him and stand in a like Relation to him as their common Representative.” […] “when we consider that the several Members of the Legislative Body are to be chosen only by particular Districts as their special Representatives and many not improbably be often chosen for the very purpose of serving and promoting such Views and Designs of their Constituents as would be injurious to other parts of the State,” the dangers of assembly government become perfectly clear. It follows that “we cannot but think that the Representatives of the Whole People who can have no reason to act under the Influence of such partial Biases and Respects should be furnished with ample and Sufficient Powers to prevent effectively the pernicious Consequences of such narrow Policy, as is calculated to serve the Interest of one part to the injury of another who may happen not to have an equal Interest in the Legislature.”

The authors went on to explain that their heightened sensitivity to the dangers of legislative power, and the corresponding need to invest the chief magistrate with sweeping prerogatives, arose chiefly out of their experience of life on the periphery of a political community. “The distant parts” of the commonwealth, such as Wells, “may Scarce have a single Member to Speak and act on their Behalf” in the legislature, and, accordingly, the two chambers “may be prevailed upon to pass Bills injurious, oppressive and pernicious to a great part of the people.” […] But however estranged they might be from the metropolitan legislature, “we shall always have a Representative in the Person of our Governor, we may claim an equal Interest in him with the other parts of the State.”

In other words, rather than electing a statewide executive (whether the governor or further down the ballot) who effectively represents only the plurality of voters who voted for him or her — often mirroring the geographical distribution of the population itself as the legislature already does — an executive would be elected by the whole people in this system.

Each voter would have cast a vote for that governor, in effect, by ranking a list of candidates. The governor would likely be the first or second choice of a much broader range of people than under the current system. He or she would be accountable to and representing the whole of the state, not just the populous parts.

The Russian Revolution & the 1918 Massachusetts Convention

I’ve been reading very heavily from the “Debates in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention 1917-1918” (particularly Volumes III and IV) — published by Wright and Potter Printing Company (the state printers) in 1920 and freely available today from Google Books — and it’s pretty fascinating for both its detailed discussions of political theory and practice and its time-capsule-like preservation of the tumultuous historical time period in which the convention occurred.

The convention was convened in early 1917, before the U.S. entered World War I and as Russia was beginning to collapse. By the time it ended in mid-1918, the U.S. intervention was in full swing — as was the Bolshevik October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The delegates in the heat of debates toward the end of the convention could not help but be swept along by the momentous history unfolding around the world.

While there are many historical points I hope to explore more, the convention’s discussions of the Russian Revolution interested me for a first post. Just a few selections are included below.

One important Somerville delegate thought ballot initiatives were as bad as the Russian Revolution:

Mr. Underhill (Somerville): I may be unduly alarmed. The initiative and referendum are not in operation in Massachusetts as yet, and possibly the recent publicity given to the chief backer of the initiative and referendum, Mr. Hearst, and his newspapers may cause the people of Massachusetts to pause and consider whether anything advocated by that gentleman or his newspapers is for the best interest of the community, and it will be defeated. But, sir, if it should be adopted, I should like to remind you that since the Convention passed the initiative and referendum, we have had an illustration of the will and rule of the majority, in Russia. We have had an example of popular government without restraint and without restrictions, which could occur in Massachusetts as well as in Russia. And, sir, it seems to me that if we are going to open the doors wide, we are going to have every demagogue from Cape Cod to the Berkshire Hills telling the people “All you have got to do now is to vote for a homestead and the Government the State or the municipality is going to give it to you.”

In reality, contrary to Delegate Underhill’s belief at the time, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia proved to be a coup by a small minority faction, rather than an expression of majority will. He made repeat appearances in the convention debates labeling every left-leaning constitutional proposal a Bolshevik plot, including the idea of having state-subsidized housing as a right for every citizen. Another point of contention in the debates was when Underhill implied that the Russian immigrant population in Brockton at the time was a Bolshevik sleeper cell.

Ironically, a Boston delegate argued that ballot initiatives might actually help conservatively counteract the (what he believed to be) undue militant leftist influence upon state legislators, who he felt would actually be easier to pressure behind closed doors than the whole electorate:

Mr. Herbert A. Kenney (Boston): What do we find in this situation? President Wilson has called the initiative and referendum “a gun behind the door.” My distinguished friend from Brookline (Mr. Walker) spoke very forcibly on those lines. Suppose, for instance, that the House and the Senate say that the minimum wage shall be, – as they do in Russia under the Bolsheviki, – say, $100 a week. Now the Legislature must vote for that; why? Because if one single member of the Legislature votes against that the labor element will center its fire on that man. They might not get him in one year but they can get him in two years or three years or perhaps ten years. He is a marked man. The same way with the Senate.

In a discussion of the minimum wage (and whether to guarantee it under the Constitution), one of the more leftist delegates argued that it was a necessity to avoid a revolution or takeover by industrial labor — and described his own evolving viewpoints on the future of labor politics in the U.S. over the momentous course of 1917 and early 1918: Read more

Justin’s Story: Hurricane Katrina’s 10th Anniversary – A Radio Documentary

Description: Justin recounts his evacuation from New Orleans in August 2005, what happened afterward, and what has happened to New Orleans in the 10 years since then. Running time: 1 hour, 2 minutes.
(Interstitial narration by Kelley. Produced by Bill. Recorded during August 2015 in Newton MA and New Orleans LA.)


Don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, Justin’s video game blog.

(Image Credit: Vybr8 / Wikipedia) Caption: A merged derivative of two satellite photos of New Orleans. One was taken on March 9, 2004 and another on August 31, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The middle frame of the three-image gif is a fabricated blend of the two source images.

(Image Credit: Vybr8 / Wikipedia) Caption: A merged derivative of two satellite photos of New Orleans. One was taken on March 9, 2004 and another on August 31, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The middle frame of the three-image gif is a fabricated blend of the two source images.

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U.S. homeownership in 2015 (in a global context)


Statistics and analysis compiled for and by The Globalist Research Center.

In the second quarter of 2015, the homeownership rate among U.S. households reached a new recent low of 63.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This was the lowest reported rate since 1967!

Homeownership in the United States had reached an all-time high of 69.2% in 2005, two years before the housing bubble burst in late 2007. Following the recession, prospective buyers shifted instead into renting. Growth in the rental market — approaching record occupancy levels in many areas of the country — is one of the factors driving down the share of homeowners in the overall pool of households.

At the same time, U.S. home buying and home prices have actually increased recently. But that demand has largely come from institutional investors, speculators, and foreign buyers. This makes it harder for ordinary homebuyers, especially in the youngest generation of would-be first-time buyers, to break into the market.

For comparison to some other major economies’ homeownership rates, about 53% of German households own their homes, 73% of Italian households own their homes, and 90% of Chinese households own their homes. The global average, however, is slightly below the latest U.S. homeownership rate.

But not all homeowners are created equal. In Romania, 95.6% of households own their own homes as of 2013 — the highest ownership rate of any EU country. And eight of the ten EU member countries with the highest rates of homeownership are all former Warsaw Pact or Soviet states. (Another is ex-Yugoslavian.) The ownership level is similar in Russia itself, where 84% of housing was owner-occupied as of 2010. All of this is at least partially related to rapid housing privatizations in the early 1990s. However, there are concerns that many of the homes in those countries, constructed in the suburbs and countryside during the Communist era, might not hold up much longer. Little new construction occurred in the decade after 1991. This could potentially put much of the housing stock in jeopardy and add major stress to those already relatively poor European nations.

Homeownership promotion has long been a goal of U.S. public policy — maybe because of its cultural association with early American colonists, homesteading pioneers, and the American Dream. Today its promoters seek to encourage building up equity and to ensure a steady need for jobs in the construction industry. The George W. Bush Administration, for example, promoted what it called an “ownership society.”

The general idea (in theory, at least) is that when people living in a home-owning household reach retirement age, the equity they have in their residence can provide a major source of funds to finance their retirement.

Home-owning households are generally wealthier, as least on paper, because a residence is often their largest asset. However, that asset is usually not a readily accessible source of cash.

Moreover, more than two-thirds of American homeowners in 2014 had mortgages on their homes. Homeownership is far less associated with debt in China, for example, than it is in the United States. Taking out a mortgage to buy a property is very uncommon in that country, barely reaching double-digits as a percentage share of homeowners in 2010.

The origin story of minimum wage laws, part 2

Part 2: Why did some industrialized nations wait so long to get a minimum wage? When did the UK, Germany, and France get minimum wage laws? Why do some industrialized nations still not have legal minimum wages? || This original research was produced for The Globalist Research Center and Arsenal For Democracy.

Why did some industrialized nations wait so long to get a minimum wage?

From a historical perspective, minimum wage laws were implemented first in countries where trade union movements were not strong. Countries such as the UK that traditionally had strong labor unions have tended to be late adopters on minimum wage laws.

In those countries, powerful unions were able to bargain collectively with employers to set wage floors, without needing legislative minimums.

The early gold standard guideline for government participation in wage setting was the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 26 from 1928 – although many industrialized countries never adopted it.

The convention said that governments should create regulatory systems to set wages, unless “collective agreement” could ensure fair effective wages. This distinction acknowledged that, by 1928, there was already a major split in approaches to creating effective wage floors: leaving it to labor organizers versus using statutes and regulators.

When did the UK, Germany, and France get minimum wage laws?

Much like pioneers New Zealander and Australia, the United Kingdom did adopt “Trade Boards” as early as 1909 to try to oversee and arbitrate bargaining between labor and management. However, its coverage was far less comprehensive than Australian and New Zealand counterparts and cannot be considered a true minimum wage system. Instead, UK workers counted on labor unions to negotiate their wages for most of the 20th century.

The Labour Party introduced the UK’s first statutory minimum wage less than two decades ago, in 1998, when it took over the government following 18 years of a Conservative government that had focused on weakening British unions. The country’s current hourly minimum wage for workers aged 21 and up is £6.50 (i.e. about $8.40 in purchasing power parity terms), or about 45% of median UK wages.

Despite opposition to minimum wages in some quarters, The Economist magazine noted recently that studies consistently show that there is little impact on hiring decisions when the minimum wage level is set below 50% of median pay. Above that level, some economists believe low-level jobs would be shed or automated, but this is also not definitively proven either.

In fact, not all countries with minimum wages above that supposed 50% threshold — a list which includes at least 13 industrialized economies, according to the OECD — seem to have those hypothesized problems. True, some of them do, but that may indicate other economic factors at work.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, only adopted a minimum wage law after the 2013 federal elections. Previously, wages had generally been set by collective bargaining between workers’ unions and companies.

As a result of the postwar occupation in the western sectors, Germany also uses the “codetermination” system of corporate management, which puts unions on the company boards directly. This too encourages amicable negotiations in wage setting, to ensure the company’s long-term health, which benefits the workers and owners alike.

The new minimum wage amounts to €8.50 per hour ($10.20 in PPP-adjusted terms), or more than 45% of median German pay.

However, in some areas of Germany, the local median is much lower. There, the minimum wage affords significantly more purchasing power. In eastern Germany, the minimum is about 60% of median wages.

In France, where unions have long had a more antagonistic relationship with management, a minimum wage law was adopted much earlier – in 1950. It is now €9.61 per hour (about $10.90 in PPP-adjusted terms), or more than 60% of median French pay.

N.B. Purchasing-power currency conversions are from 2012 local currency to 2012 international dollars rounded from UN data.

Why do some industrialized nations still not have legal minimum wages?

Because of their generous social welfare systems, one might assume that the Nordic countries were early adopters of minimum wage laws. In fact, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland all lack a minimum wage, even today.

Instead, wages in these countries are virtually all set by collective bargaining in every sector – conducted between workers’ unions, corporations, and the state. (This is known as tripartism.) Non-union workers generally receive the same pay negotiated by the unions.

A prevailing minimum or average lower-end wage can usually be estimated, but there is no law. In U.S. dollar terms, Denmark’s approximate lowest wage level is higher than almost every minimum wage in the world. Mid-level wages are even higher. Even McDonald’s workers in Denmark reportedly make the equivalent of $20/hour.

Missed part one? New Zealand, Australia, Massachusetts, the New Deal, and China: How governments took an active role initially, and how they balance economic variability now.

The origin story of minimum wage laws, part 1

Part 1: New Zealand, Australia, Massachusetts, the New Deal, and China: How governments took an active role initially, and how they balance economic variability now. || This original research was produced for The Globalist Research Center and Arsenal For Democracy.

More than 150 countries have set minimum wages by law, whether nationwide or by sector. Other countries have no legal minimum, or governments play a different role in wage setting processes.

Where in the world did government-set minimum wages originate?

In 1894, over 120 years ago, New Zealand became home to the first national law creating a government role for setting a minimum wage floor – although this may not have been the initial intention.

The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act established an arbitration court made up of both workers and employers. It was intended to resolve various industrial-labor relations disputes in a binding manner. The goal was to avoid all labor strikes.

The court was empowered to set wages for entire classifications of workers as part of these resolutions. It did not take long for this to evolve into a patchwork of rulings that effectively covered all workers.

Today, New Zealand’s hourly minimum wage is about equivalent in purchasing power parity (PPP-adjusted) terms to US$9.40.

Which country first adopted a living wage?

In the 1890s, neighboring Australia was still a loose collection of self-governing British colonies, rather than one country. One colony, Victoria, was inspired by New Zealand to adopt a similar board with wage-setting powers. This occurred shortly before the Australian colonies federated together in 1901 to become one country.

In 1907, Australia pioneered what is now known as a “living” wage when the country’s new national arbitration court issued a ruling in favor of a nationwide minimum wage.

That court specified that it had to be high enough to fund a worker’s “cost of living as a civilised being.” While the ruling soon ran into legal trouble from the federation’s Supreme Court, it remained a crucial precedent in future labor cases.

To this day, Australia has a generous minimum wage. The current rate is about equal to US$11.20 in PPP-adjusted terms. This represents about 55% of median pay. However, New Zealand’s minimum wage is actually proportionally higher, at 60% of median pay.

N.B. Purchasing-power currency conversions are from 2012 local currency to 2012 international dollars rounded from UN data.

Which U.S. state had the first minimum wage?

In the United States, a minimum wage mechanism was first introduced in 1912 at the state level — but specifically for female workers (and some child laborers) — in Massachusetts.

The state passed a law to create a “Minimum Wage Commission” empowered to research women’s labor conditions and pay rates, and then to set living wages by decree. For any occupation, the Commission could set up a “wage board” comprising representatives of female workers (or child workers), employers, and the public to recommend fair pay levels.

The Commission’s decreed wage had to “supply the necessary cost of living and to maintain the worker in health.”

1912, the year Massachusetts passed the law creating the commission, was part of a period of major reforms in the United States, which had become the world’s largest economy.

These changes gave government a more active legal role in economic policy. In 1913, the country adopted the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, which made possible a federal progressive income tax. Also in 1913, the Federal Reserve System was created.

More than a dozen U.S. states followed Massachusetts within less than a decade. However, they had to contend with frequent battles before the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of government-set minimums. Read more

When The Party’s Over: The 1820s in US Politics

A recent eye-catching Washington Post op-ed, reacting to the surges of Trump and Sanders, posed the historically-based question “Are we headed for a four-party moment?” This op-ed had potential — it’s true after all that the seemingly solid two-party system in the U.S. occasionally has fragmented for a few cycles while a major re-alignment occurs — but, for some reason, it only used the 1850s and 1948 as examples (and 1948 isn’t even very illustrative in my view).

A far more intriguing additional parallel would be the 1820s (and the 1830s aftershocks). In 1820, one-party rule under the Democratic-Republican Party was fully achieved on the executive side of government, and no one opposed President Monroe for either re-nomination or re-election. It was the party’s 6th consecutive presidential win. The Federalists remained alive only in Congress, where 32 representatives (just 17% of the House membership) remained. By 1823, there were only 24 Federalists in the House. By the fall of 1824, they had all picked a Democratic-Republican faction to support.

That year’s factionalism, however, was when things fell apart for single-party rule, alarmingly rapidly. The Democratic-Republican Party ran four (4!) different nominees and 3 running mates (Calhoun hopped on two tickets). Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and the most electoral votes, but no one won a majority of the electoral college. So, the U.S. House (voting in state-blocs under the Constitution) had to pick, and they chose Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the second-place finisher.

1824 presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Jackson, Orange denotes those won by Adams, Green denotes those won by Crawford, Light Yellow denotes those won by Clay. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state. (Map via Wikipedia)

1824 presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Jackson, Orange denotes those won by Adams, Green denotes those won by Crawford, Light Yellow denotes those won by Clay. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state. (Map via Wikipedia)

In 1828, when Jackson set out to avenge his 1824 defeat-by-technicality, a huge number of new (but still White and male) voters were permitted to vote for the first time. Contrary to the popular mythology, not every new voter was a Jackson Democrat, though many were. To give a sense of scale for the phenomenon, both Jackson and Adams had gained hundreds of thousands of votes over the 1824 results in their 1828 rematch. At the time, that was so huge that the increases to each in 1828 were actually larger than the entire 1824 turnout had been.

In part as a result of all of this turmoil in the electorate, the party split permanently that year, creating the Democratic Party (which continues to present), under challenger Jackson, and the rival “Adams Men” trying to keep President Adams in office that year. The Democrats under Jackson won easily in 1828. A third party, the Anti-Masons, entered the U.S. House with 5 representatives.

The defeated Adams Men faction, having lost their titular leader, became the Anti-Jacksons — and were officially named National Republicans in 1830. That year, in the midterms, the Anti-Masons picked up more seats, to hold 17, while a 4th party (under Calhoun) of “Nullifiers” sent 4 representatives. But Jackson’s Democrats held a clear House majority.

The large influx of new voters also still needed to be managed, particularly by the opposition. The three big (or sort of big) parties in 1832 — Democrats, National Republicans, and Anti-Masons — held national conventions (all in Baltimore) as part of this democratization and party-organization push. Democrats, however, still clearly held an organizing advantage. Read more