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).

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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 War on Chronology

Donald Trump’s quote about George W. Bush was literally as simple as “The World Trade Center came down during his reign” — which is a statement of chronological fact, without even making a judgment upon its significance or lack thereof, yet establishment conservatives are furious about that.

This emblematic is what we’re up against on a major scale: People who don’t just have an alternate worldview but an alternate view of chronological reality.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: So many points of “conventional wisdom” from the political and media establishment in Washington (including both sides of the aisle, but especially conservatives) fall apart when chronology is applied to cause-and-effect claims they make. It’s not just “correlation is not causation” — it’s that they get the order of historical events consistently wrong in drawing broad conclusions about them. Everything becomes of the fault of their opponents (whether on their own side or the other side) by presenting the reaction to something as its historical cause.

13 of Truman’s 21 policy points from 1945 are relevant today

In an address to Congress just days after the celebration of V-J Day in the United States, President Harry S. Truman outlined to Congress what the country must do after World War II. 13 of those 21 policy points remain fully or significantly relevant in 2015, seventy years later.

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“Special Message to the Congress Presenting a 21-Point Program for the Reconversion Period” – September 6, 1945
1. Unemployment compensation
2. Fair Labor Standards Act

5. Full Employment
6. Fair Employment (non-discrimination)
7. Harmonious Industrial-Labor relations
8. Job creation for returning veterans and in regions where job opportunities are scarce
9. Sustainable agriculture

11. Housing for all (urban and rural) and socially responsible city planning
12. Support for research (academic, industrial, governmental)
13. Responsible tax policy (matching revenues to expenditure needs, balancing burden distribution)

15. Support for small business
16. Support for returning veterans in all arenas of life (GI Bill and health care)
17. Investment in public works and conservation of national resources

(These points are all elaborated in greater detail at the link above to the full speech. The points not included all relate more specifically to the World War II situation itself or its immediate aftermath.)

Complicated former longtime president of Benin dies

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil's president.

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil’s president.

One of Africa’s most unusual and complicated leaders — Pastor Mathieu Kérékou of Benin — has passed away at age 82. The former radical military dictator and later civilian democratic president led Benin through several major transformations in its history, eventually earning him the surprising nickname “father of democracy.” BBC News:

Mr Kerekou had two spells as president totalling nearly 30 years, first coming to power as the head of a Marxist regime in 1972.

But he then accepted the idea of multi-party democracy and organised elections, which he lost in 1991. […]
He stepped down in 1991 after losing to Nicephore Soglo in a multi-party poll, but returned to power in 1996 having beaten Mr Soglo at the polls and then went on to win a second and final five-year term in 2001.

 
From 1972 to 1991, Kérékou served as the country’s military president, pursuing a radical new nationalism in his first two years and then a hybrid of nationalism and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, backed by the Soviet Union. Much of it was marked by totalitarian violence and incompetent policy management. Over the course of his first presidency, the economic doctrines would grow less and less radically leftist and more moderate, eventually moving even to the center-right by the late 1980s.

During the early period, however, he renamed the country from Dahomey to Benin, in an effort to shed the French colonial legacies and avoid favoring one ethnic group over another, although both labels applied to pre-colonial African states in the area. Eventually, after facing down many coup attempts and amid growing economic stagnation and political unrest, he realized that his days were probably numbered if he clung to power — particularly with the Soviet Union’s fading influence and then disintegration — so he accepted a transition to multi-party democracy when it was demanded by a 1990 National Conference to fix the unraveling domestic situation.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Kérékou did not fight or cancel this transition when it became clear he would not be kept in power democratically, and he gracefully exited the political stage, even asking for forgiveness on national TV for whatever errors and crimes his regime had committed. He was permitted to remain president (albeit with an outside prime minister) through the 1991 elections, which he contested but lost by a landslide. 1991 in Benin became sub-Saharan Africa’s first successful direct handoff of power by a free election since the end of colonialism. This peaceful and stable transition likely helped spark or reinforce the coming wave of democracy in West Africa during the 1990s.

The onetime Marxist and atheist (rumored possibly also to have dabbled with Islam) staged an impressive comeback one term later, in 1996, this time as an evangelical Christian pastor, to become the second civilian president of Benin. This political comeback itself set its own precedent whereby former African military rulers would rehabilitate themselves as wise and experienced civilian candidates for the offices they once held by force.

Kérékou served two five-year terms as a civilian, from 1996 to 2006, before retiring again. Announcing, in 2005, his planned departure from the presidency per the constitutional term limits, Kérékou explained that a lifetime of high-level service had taught him one lesson many times: “If you don’t leave power, power will leave you.” Once again, he was strengthening democracy in Benin and the region.

His successor, President Thomas Boni Yayi, now nearing the end of his own second term had widely been rumored to be considering trying to remove the term limits provision but seems to have bowed earlier in 2015 to similar pressure to leave power before it leaves him. This decision to retire was likely reinforced by the Burkina Faso revolution in 2014 over an attempt to lift presidential term limits and the chaotic political violence in Burundi after the president sought a third term on a technicality. For now, the unexpected legacy of Kérékou, born-again democrat not totalitarian dictator, will live to see another day.

Taking steps to repair Bay State’s role in Alaska Native history

Turning to indigenous peoples news relating to my hometown, Newton MA, this troubling story popped up on my radar last week…

July 1878: Skidegate Indian Village of the Haida tribe. Skidegate Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. (Library and Archives Canada)

July 1878: Skidegate Indian Village of the Haida tribe. Skidegate Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. (Library and Archives Canada)

Alaska Dispatch News – “Massachusetts college cancels sale of Alaska Native art”:

A Massachusetts theology college has abandoned plans to sell off art from 52 Native tribes, including Tlingit and Haida items, as the federal government investigates.

The Andover Newton Theological School could face penalties for quietly planning the sale of 80 Native art pieces this summer, possibly violating a federal law that would require some items to be returned to the tribes, reported KTOO-FM [Juneau AK].

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., has displayed the collection since the 1940s and alerted hundreds of tribal leaders to Andover Newton’s plans.
[…]
Andover Newton president Martin Copenhaver didn’t comment but forwarded KTOO-FM a letter that said the school “will proceed to repatriate artifacts if feasible and appropriate ways can be found to do so.”

 
The collection of Alaska Natives objects included many items of spiritual significance under traditional religions of the Alaska and Pacific Northwest coasts, which Christian missionaries seized in their efforts to force the Native populations of the Alaskan Panhandle and coastal British Columbia to convert (or just stay in line under White authority). One item was a decorated halibut hook, emblematic of the Native coastal fishing cultures.

The school now faces a formal investigation by the Federal government’s Interior Department, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and could potentially face fines of close to $20,000 for violations from the attempted sale.

Massachusetts has long had complicated and destructive ties with Alaska Native communities because of the New Bedford-based global whaling industry, which often hunted whales industrially in Alaska’s Pacific and Arctic waters traditionally harvested (at a much lower impact) by Alaska Natives. Christian missionaries from the Bay State often followed their economic counterparts into other parts of the world.

While I wish Andover Newton had been more diligent and thoughtful, I’m glad the Peabody Essex Museum did its part to help stop this illegal sale and encourage the restoration of Alaska Native artifacts to the opposite coast, where they rightfully belong. The Museum has an excellent collection (well beyond these items) of Native American Art, past and present, from many different Native cultures of North America.

In 5th grade at Newton’s Angier School, after I had been lucky enough to be assigned the Haida peoples of the Pacific Northwest for a research project on Native heritage, I got to go on a field trip to the Peabody Essex Museum and see some distinctive Haida and Tlingit art in person — an experience that has stuck with me for all these years. The collection will remain strong and vibrant even after the Andover Newton items stolen from Alaska’s and British Columbia’s Tlingit and Haida people by missionaries are repatriated.

This is an important symbolic step in repairing the hurt and pain that some of our state’s citizens caused many years ago in that part of the world.

Revisiting the Mayflower Compact, 395 years later

Cape Cod and Plymouth (NASA Satellite image, April 1997)

Cape Cod and Plymouth (NASA Satellite image, April 1997)

In November 1620, the Mayflower was bound for Virginia but found itself diverted by storms to what is now Massachusetts. The leadership on board made a decision to establish a colony there instead of attempting to continue to the Mid-Atlantic. They also made a hasty decision to draw up their own emergency charter for a new, separate colony. While this may have been a bid to retain control over a ship full of passengers who weren’t all part of the religious mission or colonial vision of the elites leading the mission, the result was the Mayflower Compact. The lost original document likely occupied a single page in large handwriting. Yet in that limited space, it explained the premise and goal for any future governmental structures or laws in the colony: a just and equal self-governance dedicated to the common good.

We also know approximately what it said. Here is an excerpt from the core of The Mayflower Compact:

“Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

 

While that’s pretty easy to read for an early 17th century charter, it also certainly is still a bit confusingly written and “old-timey.” Here is my attempt at a somewhat cleaned up and streamlined paraphrasing of the key objectives that could also be applied in a more general context:

Those present — solemnly and mutually, in the presence of one another — covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation. [For this purpose, we pledge to] enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices as shall be thought most convenient for the general good, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

 
This, in essence, means that government is a mutual compact between a collective of people. They promise each other that this government will be dedicated to establishing order in and ensuring the survival of society. To achieve this, the government must be based on laws, ordinances, acts, and structures which apply equally and justly to everyone in the society and which promote the “general good.” And to make it all work, everyone promises to submit to this rule of law and follow the order established by this collective government, as far as was reasonable to expect. (The words “all due” before “submission and obedience” — in my opinion — qualify that it is not requiring unlimited obedience without challenge to unjust authority.)

At the time, of course, they meant this self-government really to apply to wealthy and free men aboard the ship. But as you can see, they never actually specified that in the text. Thus, these become universalizable principles for participatory collective self-governance in a free, fair, and just society for the promotion of the common good and common self-preservation.

The Compact is so simple, brief, and non-specific that its core elements — with very few points removed — can apply to any society that wishes to adopt its principles.

It is a bold and noble compact with one another that we the people would do well to renew, as we approach its 400th anniversary in 2020.

AFD Micron #37

If you think acknowledging America’s awful history of slavery, genocide, and discrimination necessitates that you don’t love America, then guess what? You don’t love America! Because those things did, in fact, actually happen. So to call someone out for discussing them is less a sign that they don’t love America than a sign that you only love some vague, nonexistent fantasy version of America, and find the real thing detestable.

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