Neil Rickert's Interesting New Proposal for "Peaceful Politics"

In another discussion that has grown too bloated and has wandered far off-topic, Neil Rickert proposed some interesting modifications to the US electoral system. Since these modifications would, if successfully put into practice, likely produce less polarization and more consensus in US society, I think they are relevant to the motives of Peaceful Science. So I have started a new topic, and want to ask Neil a question of clarification about his proposal.

Neil, I read your posts too quickly and did not notice one key part of your proposal, so I want to start fresh and ask you if I understand what you are recommending. I will do this by presenting a “sample ballot” based on your discussion. I hope you will confirm or correct my understanding of the proposal.

As I understand it, you are proposing that a ballot for the election of the House member for, say, the district of Indiana that includes Muncie, would look something like this:

Candidate (Party) / Order of Preference (up to 9 selections)

Albert Able (D) / ____

Benjamin Button (D) / ____

Charlene Charleston (R) / ____

Krishna Darjeeling (Tea) / ____

Daniel Duong (R) / ____

Ahmed Farouk (Green) / ____

Randi Rand (Libertarian) / ____

Victor Vesuvio (Wedge-Theocratic) / ____

Roosevelt Washington (New Centrist) / ____

And as I understand it, the only requirement to vote would be American citizenship and formal residence in the Muncie area. No registration with any political party would be required.

Your hope, I think, is that as the counting of the ballots proceeded, the most extreme candidates would tend to be eliminated, and eventually a compromise candidate, acceptable to the majority of the voters, would win out, and that this procedure would tend to produce a less polarized House of Representatives.

And, mutatis mutandis, a less polarized Senate, and more moderate Presidents.

Have I got the idea right?


Not sure this is a “new” proposal. It has been around for a while, and already implemented in some state’s primary elections, and also in some national elections (outside the US) if I recall correctly.

Another related reform is moving towards a parliamentary system, as is the default in the British common wealth.

Both reforms are related in that they defuse (in different ways) the “all-or-none” aspect of voting in our current two-party system, encouraging finer distinctions and smaller voting blocks that have to negotiate together to maintain power.


It’s called “ranked choice voting”, and it’s already in use in a few places.


Yes, that’s the general idea.

Our current primary system tends to pick the more extreme candidates and that is part of the polarization that we see.

As others have said, there are already places that do this.


It’s a great example of a sensible reform that is non-partisan, and has broad support among both Democrats and Republicans, but will be opposed by the two established parties primarily because it creates space for third parties. It’s unfortunate there is no good way around deadlocks like this, where both parties are incentivized to ignore their constituents.

In a federal system, this also induces a prisoner’s dilemma. Where either party that unilaterally adopts these reforms, in states they control, will also weaken their position nationally with respect to the other party. So the incentives behind the status quo are very strong indeed.


OK; then I support the idea. Any system which would not force people to choose between Trump and Hillary Clinton, or between Bush, Jr. and Gore, but would allow the possibility of a third or fourth person to run up the middle, would be an improvement, at least in the majority of elections.

Now that we agree on the principle, can you tell us what it would take to achieve it? What obstacles would nationwide change on this front encounter? Are they all merely political obstacles, or are some of them structural, requiring changing the constitution in one or more areas? For example, if the primaries are currently under the authority of states, can the process be changed merely by a political decision at the state level, or would state constitutions have to be changed in some cases? And if so, how long would that take? And would the electoral college, with its distortion of popular vote, have to be scrapped, in order to make the preferential ballot for President work well? Etc.

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Yes you, and just about everyone who understands the proposal.

The National Parties are the two obstacle. This is a direct challenge to their power, which they have a great deal of, so they are united in ignoring/opposing this proposal.

Best bet (probably still a losing bet) will be groups like No Labels. Because of the prisoner’s dilemma component to this, it has to be addressed nationally, with strong supporters from both parties. See what No Label’s writes about it:

Though it is still a major uphill battle, likely a losing bet, it would be a very good public good. So that’s reason enough to support it.

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The obstacles are mainly political. But they will be hard obstacles. Yes, a constitutional amendment could help, but those are difficult to pass.

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For the most part, elections are under the control of the states. The nature of the puzzle will depend upon the state in question – there may in some cases be constitutional obstacles, for which constitutional amendments would be required. But it’s fifty different questions in fifty different states. For the most part – this is a GUESS, mind you, based on what I know of state constitutions and not a considered legal opinion – it’s likely that states would simply have to amend statutes, not constitutions, so you’d need both houses of a state’s legislature and the governor to be on board.

Now, for FEDERAL offices, there is some federal supervisory control over elections. It might not be clear whether the feds have the power to legislate something like this, and there again, you might run into constitutional questions about the distribution of power between the federal and state governments. But I think it is at least POSSIBLE that Congress might be able to pass a law dictating that all elections for federal office must implement an ordered-choice vote system, or some such thing.

If Congress does not have that authority, and wanted to impose such a system nationwide, then it would need a constitutional amendment. Or, of course, need to convince all fifty states to simply go along.

You could keep the electoral college. States are already able to apportion their electors, if they wish, but only two states do (Nebraska and Maine, I think, which give one elector to the presidential candidate winning each congressional district, and then give the two “senatorial” electors to the winner of the overall statewide vote). States could choose other apportionment methods, if they wanted. If you wanted ALL states to do this, you’d need a constitutional amendment because currently the power to choose electors is very clearly one held by the states themselves.