Michael Shannon: Why term limits lost and ranked choice voting will succeed
There have been two major attempts to change the calculus of elections and officeholders since the 1990s. One is a top down “reform” that’s currently being imposed on voters a jurisdiction at a time. The other was a bottom-up effort imposed on the politicians. The fate of the two is very instructive.
The top down innovation is ranked-choice voting, and the midterm congressional elections in Maine were the first federal contests to be decided by ranked choice.
Ranked choice works this way: In every race with more than two candidates, voters rank the contestants in order of preference like judges at a wet t-shirt contest.
In a multi-candidate field, if no one receives a majority, then all last-place finisher ballots are thrown out, and those voter’s second choice becomes their new vote. If no one gets a majority then, the last place finisher’s votes continue to be tossed and second choices used until someone gets a majority or Trump declares martial law.
Boosters of ranked choice voting promote the change with feel-good promises that are mostly immune to verification. As the League of Women Voters demonstrates.
According to that hen party ranked choice “promotes majority support...discourages negative campaigning...provides more choice... minimizes strategic voting... [and] saves money”.
What they don’t tell you is many elections are going to be decided by voters who are the worst at judging candidates and the issues that make them electable. The second-place votes of people whose candidate finished dead last are going to be used to determine a winner. That alone will put a spring in the step of Lyndon LaRouche and Deez Nuts voters.
What should disqualify ranked-choice voting from being used is not relying upon the whims of the incompetent to choose the winner. The big problem with the system is it’s unconstitutional.
By comparison term limits was a bottom-up movement that swept the nation. Twenty-three states imposed term limits on politicians by 1995, compared to ranked choice voting’s tiny foothold in Maine and a handful of cities.
As long as opponents of an entrenched professional political class confined themselves to limiting officeholders in state and local jurisdictions they were initially successful. It was only when voters applied term limits to federal candidates that problems began.
Barnacle-like congressional incumbents knew they could never persuade voters to repeal term limits, so they enlisted the help of our politicians in black robes who really rule the country.
In U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton the leftist majority on the Supreme Court ruled term limits unconstitutional because they allegedly violated Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution by adding additional qualifications to who was eligible to run. Term limits did no such thing. Legislation that limits duration of service does not change the qualifications for service.
The Constitution is silent as to how many times a congressional candidate may run and how long he can hold office. In his Thornton decision dissent Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Nothing in the Constitution deprives the people of each State of the power to prescribe eligibility requirements for the candidates who seek to represent them in Congress. The Constitution is simply silent on this question. And where the Constitution is silent, it raises no bar to action by the States or the people.”
The 10th Amendment also supports Justice Thomas: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Which exactly describes a statewide referendum limiting terms in office.
Compare the court’s opinion of term limits with the obvious unconstitutionality of ranked choice voting. In Reynolds v. Sims, decided in 1964, the Supremes established the principle of one man, one vote.
Ranked choice voting violates this principle because the voters who supported the losing candidate have their votes counted twice. First for the loser and then for their second choice. The voters who had enough sense to vote for a viable candidate in the first place only have their votes counted once. It’s electoral affirmative action for the politically impaired.
The loser of the Maine race intends to challenge the result in court, but I’m not optimistic. For some reason, his lawyers ignore the obvious one man, one vote problem and instead focus on irrelevancies.
It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court accepts the case and if it does, how the court will decide. Ranked choice is supported by all the best people and the Opposition Media. Plus, it’s used in foreign countries! Term limits had the disadvantage of only being supported by majorities of average voters in their respective states and we know how that turned out.
Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant, and is the author of “A Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.