Trending

Maine Democracy Gets an Upgrade

While most of America teeters on the edge of a fascist abyss, Maine has given democracy a much needed upgrade with the switch to ranked choice voting.

Maine will officially become the first-ever state to use ranked-choice voting for a presidential election, the state's Supreme Court ruled this September.

This will allow voters to rank each presidential candidate in order of preference for the November election. Voters will now be able to rank all five presidential candidates that will appear on the ballot, which include Republican President Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, Green Party candidate Howard Hawkins, and Rocky De La Fuente of the Alliance Party. But why is ranked choice voting such a big deal?

How Does It Work?

Ranked Choice Voting is also known as instant-runoff voting (IRV), the alternative vote (AV), or preferential voting. In ranked choice voting, instead of only voting for one candidate, voters can rank the candidates in order of preference. You can rank as many or as few of the candidates as you like and leave the rest blank. If any candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If not, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to their second-choices. The process repeats until one candidate has a majority.

Former Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate, Evan Falchuk, explains that ranked choice voting is essentially the same idea as runoff elections. "You hold an election one day, and then you see how the votes come out, and then you eliminate the candidates that didn't meet whatever the threshold is, and then you hold another election. With ranked choice voting, you do that instantaneously," he stated. Maine's new policy is essentially a more efficient way to hold multiple rounds of elections at the same time.

Flow chart of ranked choice voting Ranked Choice VotingWilliam Hessian

This system was successfully used by all voters in four states in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, and is used for local elections in more than 15 US cities and the state of Maine. Even some of the biggest critics of RCV agree it's better than our current system.

But what does this actually mean for elections? Elections have become increasingly unreliable at selecting policymakers who are representative of and supported by their constituents. But RCV eliminates a few of the common problems that exist in our current system. It makes third parties viable, it enables winners that actually have majority support, and it reduces polarization and negative campaigning.

Benefit # 1: RCV Makes 3rd Parties Viable

The majority of the country uses a system called winner-take-all voting or first-past-the-post voting. In this system, voters each have a single vote which they can cast for a single candidate. Whoever gets a plurality of the votes wins all of the representation. Winner-take-all voting systems naturally trend towards two parties. This is mainly because voters feel that they have to strategically vote for candidates who have the best chance of winning so that they don't "waste their vote."

Yet third parties still run for president every four years, and every four years they lose. Sometimes they gain a fair amount of votes, but even then, they are accused of being spoilers.

The spoiler effect is when a third party candidate's presence in the election draws votes from a major-party candidate similar to them, thereby causing a candidate dissimilar to them to win the election. The more popular a third party candidate, the less likely someone who has similar beliefs is to win.


Graph of the spoiler effect using hypothetical pro-cat and pro-dog candidates The Spoiler Effect@The_Factivists

The spoiler effect is particularly relevant in close elections like the 2000 presidential race. Many people think that Democrat Al Gore lost the 2000 Presidential Election to Republican George W. Bush because some voters on the left voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party. If even 1% of Nader's Floridian supporters had chosen to vote for environmentalist Gore over Texas oilman Bush, Gore would have been elected president.

RCV eliminates this issue. Voters can feel confident voting for a third party candidate, even one they think is unlikely to win, without fear of being a spoiler. Say you live in Maine and you think Green Party candidate Howard Hawkins is awesome, you think Joe Biden is just okay, but most of all you want Donald Trump to lose. Normally, most people would tell you to just suck it up and vote for Biden, because Howard Hawkins is never going to win and it's more important to prevent Trump from winning. With RCV you can confidently rank Hawkins as your first choice and Biden as your second, and you can know that if Hawkins loses, your vote will still be put to good use.

This allows third parties to form and grow because voters can vote for the candidate they like the most without worrying that they will help elect the candidate they like least. If it were implemented across America, RCV may not lead to many third party wins in the first few years, because America is firmly entrenched in a two party system. However, RCV allows third parties to gain real footholds and eventually even majority support.

Benefit #2: RCV Enables Majority Support

One of the biggest problems with our current election system is that in order to win candidates only need a plurality of the vote, not a majority. A plurality just means that a candidate received more votes than everyone else, whereas a majority is 51%. This is not a problem when there are only two candidates, but any time there are more than two this becomes a concern.

Too often, candidates win elections despite being opposed by the majority of voters. In elections with more than two candidates, candidates can and do win even when less than half of voters support them.

This lack of majority support is part of what pushed voters in Maine towards adopting a new system. For example, in Maine, nine of the eleven gubernatorial elections between 1994 and 2014 were won with less than 50% of voters' support. Maine governors with low winning percentages include Angus King, who won the governorship in 1994 with just 35% of the vote; John Baldacci, who won in 2006 with just 38.1% of the vote; and Paul LePage, who won in 2010 with 37.6% of the vote.

A list of the "Smallest Winning Percentages for Gubernatorial Candidates Since 1990" Smallest Winning Percentages for Gubernatorial Candidates Since 1990US Election Atlas

These low percentage wins are not unique to Maine. A recent win in the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District Democratic primary made headlines when Jake Auchincloss won with only 22.5% of the vote.

RCV has the potential to resolve these issues. With RCV, a candidate can only be declared a winner if they have received 51% of the vote. It's true that not every voter will get to see their first choice candidates win, but a majority of voters will see a candidate they at least somewhat agree with in office. If a voter's first choice is eliminated, their vote instantly goes to their second choice. That way, we can find out which of the top candidates actually has the most support.

All that being said, RCV will elect a majority winner—so long as that majority winner actually exists in the election. In RCV you only have to rank as many candidates as you like. This can result in something called exhausted ballots. Ballot exhaustion occurs as part of RCV when a voter has ranked only candidates that have been eliminated even though other candidates remain in the contest. For instance if your ballot just ranks the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates, but you decided not to rank any of the major party candidates, it's very possible that both of the candidates you voted for will be eliminated therefore your vote won't end up counting in the final round. RCV makes a majority more likely but no single-winner voting method can guarantee a majority in every election, including RCV.

Benefit #3: Decreased Political Polarization

Americans are more polarized today than ever before. A 2019 Pew poll asked partisan voters to rate their feelings towards the opposite party on a thermometer-style scale. The results showed that Americans feel increasingly negative toward the party they oppose. In March 2016, before the election, 61% of Democrats gave Republicans a cold rating and 69% of Republicans gave Democrats a cold rating (a thermometer rating of 0-49). By 2019, those numbers had significantly increased, 79% of Democrats and 83% of Republicans rated the other party coldly.

Yet the results from the bipartisan Battleground Poll from October 2019 reported that 8 in 10 Americans say that "compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders."


Donkey and Elephant wearing suits and arguing. Democrats and Republicans agree only to disagreeGary Markstein

Ranked choice voting could help bridge America's widening political divide by changing how elections work. This is partly because RCV decreases negative campaigning and partisan politicking. When a politician needs second-choice votes to win, they're incentivized to promote their own policies rather than tear down their opponents. And they are incentivized to focus on the beliefs they have in common with other candidates rather than the small policy difference s.

In RCV contests, candidates do best when they reach out and positively influence as many voters as possible–including those who support their opponents. This gives constituents more power and major parties less power. With RCV, candidates can't write off any voter as "unreachable"; they must genuinely try to appeal to voters who are openly voting third party. This means that in order to gain those second choice votes, major parties will have to look at the third parties close to them and adjust their platforms accordingly.

A 2016 study on campaign civility in local RCV elections found that voters viewed campaigns as more civil than they did in cities without RCV. The study concluded that "people in cities using preferential voting were significantly more satisfied with the conduct of local campaigns than people in similar cities with plurality elections." They added, "People in cities with preferential voting were also less likely to view campaigns as negative, and less likely to respond that candidates were frequently criticizing each other."

Our current voting system really only does one thing really well: fuel America's two-party system, a system that is divisive, outdated, and makes voters feel like their votes don't count. When voters feel like their votes count, they show up and they participate. In the words of Elizabeth Warren, RCV's latest champion, "That's a stronger democracy."

Congratulations, Maine; this is a huge step in the right direction. Now let's hope we see similar changes across America—before it's too late.

Joe Biden Has Officially Been Accused of Sexual Assault

Time's Up, one of the largest organizations fighting against sexual assault, says they can't help the alleged victim.

Content warning: the following article contains a brief depiction of sexual assault.

For the entirety of his run in the 2020 presidential race (and much of his decades-long career), Joe Biden hasn't had the best track record regarding his treatment of women.

The former vice president, who's earned a shocking lead in the Democratic primaries thus far, has racked up multiple accusations from women who say he was inappropriate towards them. Many of these recounts involve a disregard for personal space, improper comments about appearance, and even some condescending finger-wagging, but none of them explicitly depicted a sexual assault. Until now.

Tara Reade didn't initially go public with her sexual assault story about Joe Biden when it allegedly occurred in 1993. A staff assistant of Biden's at the time, Reade told her brother and close friend but otherwise kept her story silent. But, in an episode recently aired of Katie Halper's podcast, Reade has finally let her story out in the world.

Reade says that she was called to bring a gym bag to Biden, who was Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, near the Capitol. Nobody else was around. "We were alone, and it was the strangest thing," Reade said. "There was no exchange, really. He just had me up against the wall." In what seemed like one swift motion, she added, Biden had his hands under her clothes and then began penetrating her digitally. "I pulled back, and he said, 'Come on, man, I heard you liked me'...It's like he implied that I had done this."

Reade tried to come forward with her story in April 2019, but she was halted after her claims of sexual harassment got her doxxed and smeared as a Russian agent. In January of this year, Reade tried again telling her story to Time's Up, the organization that rose as Hollywood's initial #MeToo movement unfolded. However, as Ryan Grim reports in The Intercept, Time's Up couldn't provide assistance "because Biden was a candidate for federal office, and assisting a case against him, Time's Up said, could jeopardize the organization's nonprofit status."

Reade told Grim she was conflicted about coming forward with her sexual assault allegation as the 2020 election carried on because she feared she'd be "help[ing] Trump" win over Biden. But, if our two presidential front-runners are both men accused of sexual assault, and one of the largest organizations intended to help survivors can't help at all, there's a much larger issue than simply defeating Trump: It's how we handle assault at the hands of the world's most powerful men.

The End of Elizabeth Warren's Campaign Proves America's Lasting Sexism

With the Democratic nomination essentially a toss-up between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, America's fear of electing competent, prepared women is prevalent.

This week, Senator Elizabeth Warren suspended her campaign in the 2020 presidential election.

The announcement arrived after a disappointing Super Tuesday for the progressive candidate, who failed to win her home state of Massachusetts. "I refuse to let disappointment blind me— or you—to what we've accomplished," Warren wrote. "We didn't reach our goal, but what we have done together—what you have done—has made a lasting difference. It's not the scale of the difference we wanted to make, but it matters—and the changes will have ripples for years to come."

Warren built a successful grassroots movement and, for much of the race, was a Democratic front-runner. She supports key issues like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, and she mapped out proposals for affordable housing and free college for lower-income students. Her liberal policies earned her numerous comparisons to Bernie Sanders, but as Warren fell behind and her more moderate opponents, like Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg, and Pete Buttigieg, exited the race—each endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden—it became clearer that her participation might be splitting the progressive vote. Her choice to bow out for the sake of the country's future is honorable, but her departure makes the Democratic nomination a toss-up between Sanders and Biden as congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard trails behind significantly. That shouldn't be the case.

Yes, Biden has decades of experience; he first became a senator in 1972, while Warren wouldn't be elected until thirty years later. Despite serving two terms as vice president, however, Biden failed to match Warren's sharp wit in debates—his muddled answers and seemingly inattentive performances spurred headlines like "Is Joe Biden OK?" Additionally, there's an ongoing list of allegations about his creepy behavior towards girls and women, for which he's never formally apologized.

When it comes to policy, Biden can be moderate to a dangerous degree. His stance on abortion has wavered throughout the years (to be fair, Warren was a Republican until the '90s), and he supported a constitutional amendment in the '80s that would have let states overturn Roe v. Wade. In the '90s, he voted against legalization of gay marriage, and later in the early '00s, he voted in favor of the Iraq War. Today, he opposes Medicare for All, would let states individually allow to legalize recreational marijuana, doesn't believe in abolishing ICE, and wouldn't bring U.S. troops home from overseas; Warren's stance on each of those issues is the opposite, which makes the trending #WarrenToBiden hashtag so disappointing.

Though Warren has generally kept her gender out of her campaign (aside from telling little girls that she's running for president because "that's what girls do"), much of Biden's sudden lead ahead of her can be accredited to sexism. Despite experience, Warren has proven time again and again that she's incredibly fit to be president; how has Biden become our most "electable" option?

Yes, Democrats need to unite to ultimately defeat Donald Trump. But we also can't risk electing a candidate who repeatedly appears mentally unwell, poses dangers to women, and doesn't have an aggressive plan to tackle the climate crisis. Thankfully, we have a viable candidate left with Sanders, but Biden shouldn't be the other choice. The U.S. deserves better than Biden, but it'll be hard to get there until we've overcome our fear of electing a woman.

The Full Breakdown of the 2020 Candidates' Dance Moves

Because the American people deserve to know

With less than a month left until the Iowa caucuses officially kick off primary season, it seems like we've spent the last decade slowly whittling away at an endless list of candidates.

Many voters have already seen their favorite contenders drop out of the race. Others have yet to figure out which person on a crowded debate stage best represents their interests. Obviously there are a number of axes on which you can compare the candidates, and countless articles that can help you navigate their differing economic policies, their stances on health care, or their various approaches to foreign policy. If those are the factors by which you judge a candidate, you should have no problem finding what you need to make up your mind. People like me are not so lucky.

Obama Dance with Ellen Degeneres

I have always been a single issue voter—consistently casting my ballot for the best dancer. In 2008 and 2012, I had an easy time of it. Barack Obama's blend of smooth and corny dance moves struck a perfect balance for my sensibilities, easily winning out over Mitt Romney's "Gangnam Style" convulsions, or John McCain's high-intensity robot. 2016 presented a more difficult choice. I nearly didn't vote at all, but ultimately decided that Hillary Clinton's stiff Whip and Nae Nae represented the lesser of two evils when considered against Donald Trump's apocalyptic rendition of "Hotline Bling."

Trump Dance SNL

Sadly, some 60 million voters didn't see what I did, and made the wrong call. I won't let that happen again. The American people deserve to see every candidate dance before they go to the polls. Until the DNC finally listens to wisdom and converts one of their debates to a dance off, I've compiled this list so that you can make an informed decision.

Elizabeth Warren

We'll get the top-tier candidates out of the way first. Senator Elizabeth Warren has nothing to hide. She has been the most upfront, transparent candidate when it comes to her big, structural dancing. And while it may not be everyone's first choice in style, you can not fault her fun-aunt-at-a-wedding energy. The latest example of her eclectic blend of fist pumping and hula dancing comes from last night's Brooklyn rally with—recent dropout and competent dancer in his own right—Julian Castro. She probably just needs a couple more glasses of zinfendel from the open bar before she really loosens up.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is surprisingly spry. You might not expect a man in his 70s with heart problems to cut a rug, but Bernie is not your average senior citizen. He has the energy of a man half his age, and the timeless consistency of his dancing allows him to keep up with his young supporters.

Joe Biden

Former vice president Joe Biden dances exactly as you'd expect—slow, old fashioned, and "sweet" in a way that's uncomfortably intimate.

Andrew Yang

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Yang has more than enough spring in his step to keep up with any roomful of middle-aged women on the dance floor. His universal basic dance moves aim to remind us that we all share one dance floor.

Tulsi Gabbard

Congressional representative for Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard doesn't exactly dance—she dance-fights. Just as with her approach to debates or to the war on terror, her Capoeira moves may be a bit more aggressive than some voters want.

Amy Klobuchar

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is known for her no-nonsense pragmatism. She strives not to make any promises she can't keep, so she will appear to be the adult in the room...but her dancing tells a different story. Klobuchar dances with the energy of a happy toddler who could enter full-blown tantrum mode at any moment.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne dancing

You may be surprised to find that spiritual guru Marianne Williamson is still in the race, but once you see her dance moves, you'll be surprised she isn't the front runner. She is as one with the music as she is with the vibrations of the universe.

Next Page