How To Fix The U.S. Government

It seems pretty clear there are a few cracks in America’s democracy. Polarization, mis- and dis-information, tribalism, othering… Things are tense.

So what’s the number-one solution we get offered? Vote.

I get it. I’ve offered this solution myself, including in a 2016 article for this very publication. And I stand by it -- you absolutely should vote.

But will voting fix our political challenges? Or does it just make it more likely that my person will be the one overseeing the degradation of the American experiment?

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the latter. The U.S. government faces challenges that are structural and systemic.

So what are those structural and systemic challenges? As Andrew Yang (yep, that guy) argued at TED this week, the problem is misaligned incentives.



Here’s what he means. In the 2022 midterms, according to FairVote, 84% of House seats were decided by >10 points, or were uncontested.

Basically, the vast majority of districts are drawn so strongly red or blue that all you have to do to win that district is to become the candidate for the dominant party.

Typically, party candidates are selected through the primary system, but here’s the thing: Only about 20% of eligible voters turn out for primaries.

Split that by party, and only 10% of voters decide each primary -- and therefore, in 84% of cases, the outcome.

In addition, the voters who turn out for primaries tend to be the most politically engaged, and typically the most extreme.

This is a far cry from how most of us imagine things should work. In a democracy, Yang observed, we think you have to win over 51% of the population in order to get in, including a chunky swath of moderate voters.

But, in this system, you must win over the most extreme 10% of voters. Not only that, but if you try to court more moderate voters, the extreme ones will kick you out in favor of someone more aggressively in their camp.

Here’s the great news: There is a solution. It’s wildly popular among those who’ve adopted it. It’s inexpensive. And it fixes things at the structural, systematic level -- where it counts.

The solution? Ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant-runoff voting or single transferable vote.

In RCV, there’s no party primary; all candidates run in the same open primary.

Instead of voting for the one person you want, you choose as many candidates as you like, in order of preference.

If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and those votes go to those voters’ second choice.

RCV means voters no longer have to worry about how other people are likely to vote or whether they’re “splitting” the vote. They can vote for the candidate they want, knowing that, if their preferred candidate doesn’t end up with a shot, their vote will still count.

If a candidate is a long shot, most of us don’t want to waste our vote -- or worse, by pulling our vote away, let in our undesired candidate. But ranked choice allows us to vote for moderates, confident that, if our first choice doesn’t get in, our vote will still count.

This isn’t a new or radical idea. In the US, 48 local jurisdictions and two states use RCV in elections, as do numerous national, state and local governments around the world. In 2023, RCV won in all seven cities where it was on the ballot, including in Burlington, Vermont, where an initiative to expand its use from city council elections to all municipal elections passed by 64%. This year, Oregon and Nevada will vote on adopting it statewide.

We should all vote, regardless of whether our district or state offers RCV. But implementing RCV makes our vote count, and rewards politicians who listen to the majority rather than to a small group of extremists.

RCV is possible, achievable, cheap and popular. Let’s stop messing around and get this done.

4 comments about "How To Fix The U.S. Government".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, April 19, 2024 at 11:47 p.m.

    Wouldn't that rank choice that the extremists game the system and not vote for D Or R if there very convertive or very liberal. That would be a problem or people wouldn't vote for second or 3RD choice no matter what just pick the favorite and leave the other stuff blank. I vote in the primaries not all the time largely when it's for the candidates that are running for governor in the primaries or US Senate primaries. I did vote in the presidential primary in late Feb in Michigan to let my voice be heard and to say no to Donald Truck I voted Nikki Hayley. Ad I'll be voting 3RD party once again like I did in 2020 as I don't like Biden or Trump one less vote for both.

    And I don't consider it a wasted vote as I'm not ever voting for the 2 evils ever again, I just can't vote for the lesser of 2 evils just because those are the 2 that are the likely winners in my opinion. I'm not voting for RFK JR he'll be on the Michigan ballot in Nov which is a good thing for those that want to vote for RFK JR. I hate being in a swing state already seeing the lying ads that is nothing but slander largely from Biden. The superpacs after Labor Day UGH.

  2. Ben B from Retired, April 19, 2024 at 11:48 p.m.

    Oops, conservative.

  3. Bill McClain from Bill McClain Brand Builder, April 22, 2024 at 9:16 a.m.

    Yes! RCV rewards collaboration and consensus. For more, visit 

  4. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, April 22, 2024 at 3:38 p.m.

    Excellent commentary. Unfortunately our current crop of self-serving career politicians will not make any changes that threaten their ability to get re-elected. Their primary agenda is to defend their cushy perks and prestige.  

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