It’s All About the Benjamins

In my perfect American utopia all campaigns are publicly financed but until then candidates need to raise money in order to gain visibility and hire campaign workers.

When I was growing up I had the unique privilege to learn first hand how campaigns work from the inside, from the back room. What I learned ultimately was one major rule of thumb : the candidate who raised the most money generally would win. This was partially due to the fact that people and entities giving money to a candidate was/is a great way to gauge early popularity of the candidate, because nobody would give to someone they didn’t like or thought couldn’t win.

Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve been giving my money to candidates I support for years. In my mind, I love these people and want to help them to win and so I kick in some of my money. But if you think about that for a minute, isn’t that super weird? Why should we have a system where we citizens need to vote for someone more than once? And why should one of our votes be done with money? And is it fair? Clearly some people (and companies) have a lot more money than I do so their ‘vote’ is proportionally a lot greater than mine. Is that right? It’s become so normalized in my brain that it never seemed odd until I stopped to think about it.

Shouldn’t we have a system where we citizens vote exactly one time, on election day? And shouldn’t we have a system where our votes were fairly counted and applied in a rational way that ensures that the candidate with the most support wins?

The answer is YES and we need to fight for that and for public financing of elections every day until things change. But sadly, that’s not our system right now and we have to consider the race as it is today.

I was reading an article this morning about Joe Biden and why he hasn’t declared yet and one major reason was that he didn’t think that he would be able to compete with the other candidates in the small donor race. One aside, Biden thought that part of the reason was that he wasn’t of the “Social Media Generation” (as if the reason people were giving money to other candidates was because they were blindly responding to social media messaging as opposed to actual policies of the candidates!).

I took some time to dig into how much money the current candidates have raised at this point but it seems that there isn’t very much data on the FEC website yet. I can say that the Donald has raised over $67M (and spent $55M) however. We will have to wait, I’m sure for the first FEC quarterly report.

But we can speculate.

There are many reports that Sanders is winning the money race so far, followed by Harris. Elizabeth Warren has decided to swear off big money private donors as well as PACs (good for her!) so it would be interesting to see how she is doing.

But we can’t know at this moment. I’m guessing that the FEC will report out their quarterly numbers at the end of the month. We will check in then!

You can’t always get what you want

I’d like to start this post with a quick detour into voting systems. And by that, I mean, the systems we use to count our votes to determine who wins. There is an _amazing_ book that should be required reading for all voters called Gaming The Vote. This book goes into a bit of history and demonstrates why the current way we count votes is completely terrible and often leads to results that do not reflect the will of the voters. The central thesis is that when you have more than two candidates in an election, the plurality system (she who gets the most votes wins) totally breaks down in many un-obvious ways.

One of those ways is that candidates can get elected with a small percentage of the vote total. Think about that one factor. There are 4 candidates and you love A, B is ok, C is eh but you hate D. In fact, the D candidate is pretty different than A-C in what they believe and A-C are pretty interchangeable to a large group of voters. (eg. D voters hate candidates A-C and A-C voters hate D).

The totals end up 30% A, 19% B, 17% C and 34% D. Is it right that D wins with only 34% approval? If the people who voted for B and C knew D would win and A had the best shot they would have gladly voted for A and thus A would have clearly won. If you think about it as A-C vs D (which is kind of is when you consider the platforms of the candidates) it’s clear.

The above problem not only shows you how shitty the results can differ from the real will of the people they also demonstrate another problem with plurality voting: strategic voting. People start to cloud their decisions by thinking about who actually can win the election rather than who they want to win the election. You can probably see a ton of examples in the past where this was an issue and imagine a ton more where it will be an issue.

I won’t get deeper into this, but this kind of stuff, to me, is extremely fascinating and the subject of many, many studies. What I will tell you is that while the studies often suggest differing solutions _all_ of the studies say that our current system is the worst. Two of the most popular systems that I’ve heard about are Approval Voting and Ranked Choice.

Approval Voting is beautiful in its simplicity. It requires (almost) no changes to machines or the math. When you go to vote, you vote for all of the candidates you approve of. So in the example above if you were an A, B or C voter, you’d vote for all 3. If you were a D voter, you’d vote for D alone. At the end, whoever gets the most votes will be the winner. Just take a second to think about how incredible this system is. Its so clean and elegant, it’s the system (last I checked) that the International Society of Mathematicians uses to pick their officers.

The other system that I like a little less is called Ranked Choice. The reason I don’t like it as much is because it’s a bit more complicated and I think that may turn off some voters and voter turn out is low enough. However, it’s gaining some traction (I think it was used in Maine in the last election) so I am totally for it. In this system you rank your choices when you vote (eg. A, C, B, D) and they use a bit of math to compute who wins based on runoffs: If no one has 51%, they drop the lowest vote getter and reallocate their votes based on their rankings and then recompute then repeat if necessary. This system again is _way_ more representative of the will of the people. I think this Radiolab episode (which I heard 2-3 months ago) talks about an election in Ireland that uses this system.

Ok. So where am I going with all of this?

The way we choose our presidential nominee is terribly unfair and will not reflect the will of the people.

This is not only based on the voting system (see above) but also on the fact that we do primaries on different dates and also a bit on the fact that our elections are not publicly funded (maybe we dig into this another time).

So, assuming that we had our primaries on the same day, what would happen is that the field would be incorrectly split up based (mostly) on ideological leanings, on the ways the candidates are different and also the same.

In very broad strokes:

by Economic beliefs : (Bernie and Warren) vs. (Kamala and Gillibrand) vs. Booker vs. Klobuchar

which would mean that the election would be between Cory and Amy since the others would split each others votes.

by Sex: (Bernie and Booker) vs. (Kamala, Gillibrand, Warren, Klobuchar)

so this would come down to Bernie v. Booker.

etc.

Of course its a lot more complicated when you come up with different venn diagrams and put them all together, but I feel that the election will be decided in these ways. This is how Trump became the nominee. He was so different than the rest of the field that they all split up the opposition to him in every primary. Will this happen if Joe Biden joins the race?

The moral to this story is that I feel that unless we change the way we vote in America, we will never get the candidate we all are happy with. And that’s sad because in every election, such a candidate does exist.

Amy Klobuchar

1920px-Amy_Klobuchar,_official_portrait,_113th_Congress

And yet another woman has entered the race! I don’t know a lot about Sen. Klobuchar other than what I saw of her during the Kavanaugh conformation hearings (where she was pretty awesome) so I will have to do some digging into her platform as well..

I did hear that she is historically pretty mean to her staff though.

Edit : She gets major points for announcing in a blizzard. That’s badass!