When people across America sit staring at their screens, watching a needle move left or right and dots on a diagram turn red or blue, it becomes easy to wonder if people are voting for the candidates themselves or just for their party. With few notable exceptions, Democrats and Republicans are the only real option for voters across the country with a political system that serves to push voters further to one side or another, while ignoring all of the nuance in between.
The Democrats and Republicans have had alternating control over the government for the past 150 years. While the platform of each party has certainly changed, the ability of the people to have a significant say in politics when voting against both of the two parties in power has grown smaller and smaller. The party in power has not been truly required to reach a compromise with anyone else, and Congress tends to come to a standstill when the parties split control of the two houses, as neither side wants to work to resolve their differences.
And who can blame the politicians? A refusal to compromise is all too often seen as a sign of strength within any politician’s ardent supporter base, and as a result, many would rather force a shutdown than reach timely agreements.
The problems of the two-party system are spawned from the way in which we elect our representatives; take the House of Representatives, for example. Each geographical district sends one representative to Congress every two years, but any disagreement within that particular region is ignored after the representative is chosen. If within every district in the United States, 51 percent of people voted Democrat and 49 percent voted Republican, the House would consist entirely of Democrats the following year. This oversimplification shows the danger our system poses to third parties. In the 2016 presidential election, over five percent of people voted for a third-party candidate, and these numbers would only grow if dissent within any particular district was not silenced by our political system.
Contrast our method of election with Switzerland’s, or any other country that use proportional representation, and the inherent flaws in our system come to light. In Switzerland, each individual citizen votes for one candidate (of any party) per seat in the legislature that needs to be filled. As a result, a vote carries significance no matter where the person casting it lives or which party they are voting for. Because of this, the 12 different parties in Switzerland’s Federal Assembly must work together and come to substantive compromises to achieve their goals, thus reducing the polarization present in their system.
Furthermore, because the number of people who are represented by one seat in the House is determined by a census every ten years and congressional districts are entirely bound within each state’s lines, the number of people represented by each seat in the House can vary widely. Montana has approximately 1,000,000 voters for each district, while Rhode Island has about 500,000. In effect, Rhode Island voters have approximately twice the influence in the House than those from Montana.
These effects are amplified in the Senate. California has about 70 times the voters as Wyoming, and yet they are represented by the same number of senators. In half of our legislature, one can increase their power by a factor of nearly 100 by moving to the correct state.
As a part of communities as diverse as Los Angeles and the United States, we must work together to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard in government.