Washington, D.C. is broken. The coarsening of our politics has created such bitter antagonism between Democrats and Republicans that true bipartisanship rarely emerges, even on matters vital to our country. Despite an American public whose largest voting bloc is moderate and independent, our political system increasingly advances candidates who are at the fringes of both parties. When coupled with general elections that frequently choose representatives who have earned less than a majority of the vote, this is a recipe for disaster. It has led both parties to view destroying each other as their primary job rather than advancing the best interests of their country and constituents. The result is legislative inertia, political contempt, and deepening acrimony even among neighbors and friends.
This doesn’t need to be our reality. An innovative proposal is moving in Wisconsin to change the nature of elections. Sponsored by a bipartisan group of courageous Wisconsin state lawmakers, Final-Five Voting (FFV) would encourage greater cooperation in Congress by ensuring that elected lawmakers have earned broader support in their districts. Here’s how it works. All candidates for a U.S. Senate or House seat would compete in the same single-ballot primary. The top five vote-getters would advance to the general election regardless of their party affiliation. General election voters would then rank those five in order — from their favorite candidate to their last choice. When the ballots are counted, if none of the five finalists wins 50% or more of the vote, an immediate runoff occurs. The last place candidate is eliminated but their voters’ ballots aren’t wasted. Rather their votes would be transferred to other candidates if they indicated a second choice on their ballots. This process would continue until a winner got to 50% of ballots.
One of the bill sponsors, Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) says it best: “Politics is hyper-partisan. It is a lot of bomb throwing. It is not very productive, and the vast majority of people are turned off. The system as it’s currently designed rewards behaviors in the tail of bell curves. What this reform does is it gives a broader segment of our population … a say in who the representatives are.”
There are other benefits as well. FFV allows for real electoral competition from third-party or independent candidates because supporters are no longer throwing their votes away or “spoiling” elections, giving voters more choice. Perhaps most important of all, winning an election would require something new – the ability to appeal to a wider swath of Wisconsin’s electorate, rather than simply the party base.
While new to Wisconsin, FFV is not a new idea. Alaska adopted FFV last year. Some form of the single-ballot primary or instant runoff election have been implemented at the local level in 10 states, and statewide in Maine, California, Washington State, and Nebraska. Other countries have been using similar systems for a century.
Support is growing for FFV in Wisconsin. Democracy Found, a non-partisan non-profit founded by Katherine Gehl (former CEO of Gehl Foods) and Austen Ramirez (CEO of Husco International) is supported by growing list of Wisconsin business, community and political leaders who endorse the idea for our state. Learn more about this effort by visiting democracyfound.org and join us.
Wisconsin deserves better than our current broken system. Our state has a history of being a crucible of democracy innovation. We have the opportunity now to add a page to that history. Final-Five Voting is an important step in fixing our broken system.
Greg Anderegg is a long time Greater Racine area resident. Throughout his life, he has been engaged in community efforts to improve quality of life for its residents, and the efficiency and effectiveness of its governments.