Party in power will always swat away change if it smells like a threat.
BELOIT STATE REP. Mark Spreitzer, along with Sen. Mark Miller, want Wisconsin to switch to what is called ranked-choice voting - sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting.
Basically, it works this way. Rather than picking candidate A or B in a given election, the voter expresses ranked preferences - first choice, second choice, sometimes more. When votes are tallied the idea is to reach a winner able to command a majority by moving through various phases of ranked choices until that happens.
It's not necessarily as complicated as it sounds, but some worry change could create a certain level of confusion and perhaps adversely impact turnout.
THERE ARE BOTH pros and cons to these systems, which have been used elsewhere without serious problems.
But let's look beneath the surface.
Two Democrats are advocating for the reform. As with previous major electoral initiatives - gerrymandering reform, voter ID and others - one party seems to push for it while the other steadfastly opposes. Odds are very high the same fate awaits ranked-choice voting, which seems unlikely even to get a hearing in the legislature where Spreitzer, Miller and their Democrat colleagues are the minority.
Let's be fair, by the way, to the Republican majority. Democrats could have made this and other changes a few years ago when both houses of the legislature and the governor were controlled by them. They did not. Why? The same reason Republicans are just fine with the way things are today.
It's working for them.
IT'S NOT A COINCIDENCE that political parties seem to discover the joys of reform only when they are on the outside looking in at the halls of power. When the status quo is working in their favor, reform is a dirty word.
Do we believe ranked-choice voting deserves serious debate and consideration? Sure. Even though it won't get it.
But, moreover, the ideological logjam is why we have concluded the only reform that really would matter is adding Wisconsin to the list of states that have citizen initiative and referendum. That's the process which allows citizens to pose a binding referendum question, gather sufficient signatures to force it onto a statewide ballot, with an outcome politicians must accept. It would take a constitutional change but few, we believe, can question the obvious: Expecting politicians to get tough reforms done - the kind that might endanger themselves or their majority - is hoping for what never was and what never will be. The political class takes care of itself, first.
On that, if nothing else, there's bipartisan agreement.
JUST IMAGINE, THOUGH. If citizens could force binding ballot questions they might choose ranked-choice voting. Or prohibiting partisan gerrymandering in favor of nonpartisan redistricting. Or - the Holy Grail - term limits.
That's real reform.