I’ve been writing about an election recently.
No, not the 2016 election. I could have, I suppose, but there doesn’t seem much point, since no one likely to read what I have to say is going to have their minds changed by it, and anyone who disagrees with me will feel obliged to comment and won’t change my mind, just annoy me. We are all so easily annoyed by this election, and I think we’re all happy that one way or the other it will be over tomorrow. (For the record: I voted last week (on Halloween as seemed appropriate), and plan to spend the resulting free time tomorrow going for a long walk with the “Hamilton” soundtrack; I cast a reasonably sanguine vote for Hillary Clinton (and did not ignore the down-ballot races); it doesn’t matter a hell of a lot anyway since I live in Maryland in which a victory for Trump would signal the start of the apocalypse. But I’d never not vote.)
But (in my head and in the book I am not far enough along in writing) it is time for the 2176 election. Rose Franklin is in the last year of her second term and is not eligible to run again even if she wanted to. (I do have to make up a lot of history here; it’s possible that during the isolationist years the two-term rule got scrapped, but if so it was reintroduced sometime in the first half of the 22nd century.) So I had an opportunity to play with candidates, parties, and electoral systems. Tossing out the Republicans and Democrats was decided on long ago, but I think political parties as a system would hang around since we like to band in groups and, you know, wear gang colors and pull each other’s hair out. And I wanted to give lots of parties a chance to participate (for reasons), plus I am tired of our first-past-the-post system that seems to limit choices to two parties, and also of the electoral college which essentially disenfranchises large numbers of non-swing-state voters. (I know we hang on to our non-swinging status by actually voting, but we are boringly consistent, and in fiction it’s all about entertainment. Or at least not all about ideology.)
So, given that it’s my world, I decided to let my characters vote in an instant-runoff system – which is used in a lot of races around the world today, though not very often for high-population national races. It could be, though! You just need fast secure computers. This system works by voters ranking candidates, say 1, 2, 3, 4, with 1 being the most highly preferred, and 4 being the one you can just about stand the thought of. (You can leave spaces blank, too, if you totally can’t stomach a certain person.) If someone gets more than 50% of the 1 votes, they win right away. But if not, then the candidate who got the fewest 1 votes gets thrown out, and those ballots are recounted with the number 2 choice at the top. And it keeps going until there are only two candidates left and one has the majority (meaning: more than 50% of the electorate could stand to see this person in office!). Wikipedia has a more detailed description.
This is not a perfect system (none of them are) but it may well be better than what we have now, and it’s more interesting, if only because it’s different. It would turn a presidential election into a true national majority contest, and dispense with the electoral college. It would shorten the horrible long slog of an election cycle, and get rid of primaries since state-by-state majorities cease to matter and all of the candidates who can get on the ballot (let’s assume they need to go through some by-the-people selection process so it’s not too ridiculous) can participate in the general election. Although for purely dramatic reasons I may need to have some people voted off the island eliminated in early balloting. The election is not the main focus of the book, but it’ll be going on in the background and will influence how the characters are thinking and feeling and relating.
Speaking of which (and to explain the subject line) – we saw a wonderful staged version of Sense and Sensibility last night at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, and it occurred to me that the conflict between Elinor and Marianne and their behavioral ideals is an interesting mirror in which to glimpse political and voting behavior. This election cycle has been a good example of the conflict between emotion and rational thought – and though I am an Elinor by nature, tending to underreact in public, approach decisions as logically and pragmatically as possible, and keep on an even keel, those who’ve read my books know I’ve got a Marianne lurking as well. And I don’t think emotion and intuition are completely out of place in choosing our leaders, as long as there’s a factual basis behind the choices too, so it’s not all would-like-a-beer-with and rubs-me-wrong-way-don’t-know-quite-why and got-mad-at-fifteen-years-ago-will-never-forgive. I mean, I have a repeated perverse desire to turn Jane Austen’s villains into reformed rakes and let them win out over the stuffed shirts, so I am clearly not Ms. Logic Forever and Always Amen. (Not exactly in the Willoughby for President column either, though. Let’s let him work his way up from dogcatcher.)
At any rate, in the fictional context a character’s emotional response to a candidate is just as important as his or her careful review of positions on issues, and far more relatable, so I am going for a field that pushes buttons and stokes fires, much as I would prefer not to have any of them running in today’s elections.
And my Election Eve message is just: get out there and vote, whomever you’re voting for! And also: do keep in mind how our choices as a nation will affect us in the near and distant future, but what the history we’re making will look like when viewed from the future is damned hard to predict. What we can see, and what I like to think of this election creating, is this: there are young American children today whose only Presidential face is that of a black man. If we can add to that another four to eight years of a white woman, and then – who knows?! – maybe a black woman like Rose Franklin (who wouldn’t agree with my racial reductionism, but forgive me for now, Madam President), those kids will reach voting age with a much broader sense of what’s possible than most of us had. I think it’s worth trying.
Push the button, fill in the oval, do the ranking in your head to practice; make the future happen. Thanks.