|Excellent article, Jeff. I think this is a huge idea, and could radically change the way politics is done. Thanks for sharing it.|
Elizabeth, it's not narrowing the candidates from many to one, but how that narrowing is actually done. The current mechanism makes your vote worth all or nothing for a candidate. Say a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian run for office. It may be that the Democrat wins with 40% of the votes, while Republican has 30%, and the Libertarian has 30%. It may be that 60% of the people would rather have EITHER the Republican or Libertarian win then than the Democrat. But because they split their votes, the weaker one wins.
Now what's the implication here? Well, if you want to win, you shouldn't split the votes. You're better off voting for a person you don't really like (the Republican) but prefer to the other big player (the Democrat). If you vote for the guy you really want to win, you get the worst of all worlds.
And this is why polical primaries exist. In the past, you'd have multiple candidates from a single party running in an election. One party (the Democrats) were smart enough to have a pre-election run off, so they only put one party member forward. The election was then between one Democrat, and several Republicans. Since your vote is all or nothing, the Republicans split their votes, and the Democrats won. The Republicans had primaries as well after that.
Primaries have interesting side-effects, as Jeff mentioned. The first is that when a candidate is running in the primaries, he tends to be more radical to be closer to the middle of his party. After the primaries, they want to move closer to their opponents party, so they can hopefully get some of their votes (and the independents!).
Also, the winner of the primary has to go up against the winner of the other's primary. So again you don't vote for the guy you want to win, but the guy you think can win against the other. The Democrats running against Bush are currently trying to prove that they are the only ones that can run against Bush and have a chance of winning.
And during the final election, you often get demonizing of the other candidate. The parties realize that you don't just get votes from people that like you. You often get votes from people who just don't want the other person to win. So you promote yourself as the lesser of two evils. So people say George Bush is evil, and if you vote for him he'll destroy the economy to prop up his oil companies, will throw old people and children on the streets, and will enslave the masses (in a different way then the Democrats want).
The primaries, and the "all or nothing" vote have the consequence of giving strong incentives for people to vote for someone other than who they actually want. You vote for someone in order to prevent someone else from winning. It's all backwards. As Jeff has pointed out, this new style of voting could undo that. It would allow people to vote for who they wanted, without fearing that they're wasting their vote.
He mentioned that this voting process would be useful for third parties, since people wouldn't have to fear the consequences of voting the way they want. But if this voting process were combined with the removal of primaries, it would also benefit the two big parties. Instead of finding their least offensive member who nobody really likes, they can pick between real choices.