Is The Two Party System Dying?

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:03

There might be better alternatives to the current way of running our city's government

As the old saying goes: democracy is the second worst form of government - everything else is tied for first.

This maxim could also be applied to our longstanding two-party system, which has functioned in our country for the better part of two centuries.

The defining principles of the Democrats and Republicans have sometimes shifted, as I was reminded watching the movie Lincoln last year (the national Republicans, largely, were the abolitionists. Now, many oppose things like immigration and health care reform).

What has happened in national politics in recent years with the increasing polarization and political warfare between the two parties is as destructive and self-defeating as it's been in the last century.

Shutting down the government, attempting to re-litigate the Affordable Care Act, a program whose constiutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court, and the acerbic debate about the deficit and debt limits has created an Us vs. Them spectacle which has impeded governance.

What happened to centrist Republicans and Democrats who were dealmakers and realized that good politics lies in the art of the compromise? Where are the leaders of each party who would try to find areas of common principle and then would horse trade the things they disagreed about?

In New YorK City and New York State we actually have a different problem with the two-party system - there is really only one vital party these days: the Democrats.

If Bill de Blasio and Scott Stringer win in November, and the odds are great right now this will happen, then all major officeholders in New York state government and city government will be Democrats. State Senate co-leader Dean Skelos will be the last elephant standing in 2014.

Because of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. and the withering of the GOP in New York, I have become a big believer in non-partisan elections.

Most major cities in America have instituted this, like Boston and Los Angeles, and it has led to greater voter turnout.

In New York, less than eight percent of the eligible electorate nominated the Democratic candidate for Mayor. Who knows how many people will go to the polls on November 5th if it looks like a landslide is inevitable?

But if we had non-partisan elections, where people of all parties compete against one another, we will increase turnout and also force voters not to vote slavishly by party, but rather by principle and qualifications.

Mike Bloomberg tried in 2004 to get a referendum passed for non-partisan elections but it did not succeed because party loyalists furiously opposed it.

One other related thought: in Puerto Rico, every four years election day is a national holiday and 94 percent of voters go to the polls. Perhaps we can learn something from that.

With our dismal voting turnout in recent years and the cynicism about our government, isn't it time to reform the way we vote and the two-party system?

Tom Allon, the president of City and State, NY, is a former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor. Questions or comments?