Third Party Dreams and How to Achieve Them

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 20 2012 2:40 PM

Third Party Dreams and How to Achieve Them

Over at the Economist, M.S. takes one last whack at the misshapen pinata that was Tom Friedman's latest "deeeuhr, Mike Bloomberg" column. He/she makes the actionable point:

If Mr Friedman seriously wanted this to change, he could lobby for a constitutional amendment to establish proportional representation in one of the houses of Congress, which would make third parties viable.
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You wouldn't actually need a constitutional amendment to get this going. The Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 2) only says this about the membership of the House:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

If you wanted to turn the entire House (or Senate) into a proportional body, yes, you'd need to get amendin'. But there's nothing preventing the states from doing this right now. Two years ago, Washington state approved a half-measure, the "jungle primary," in which the top two finishers -- whichever party they're from -- advance to the general election. It didn't make much of a difference in 2010, but it theoretically allows an ultra-strong Green Party or Libertarian or (heh, heh) Americans Elect candidate for Congress to barrel into the November election against one of the major party candidates. If the Friedmanites were serious about rattling the two-party system, they'd invest the $9 million spent on Americans Elect's website on lobbying a state -- maybe a small one -- to try out instant runoff or proportional voting. Maine would be a good place to try it out, because in 2010, most voters went for a liberal Democratic or independent candidate and a rump ended up electing an extremely conservative Republican governor.

All of this assumes that the fool-and-his-money types that fund Americans Elect are in it for something more than -- top of my head -- a Mike Bloomberg candidacy that would pay off the mortgages of endless consultants.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.