A few weeks past, an explosion was reported at Arcata High School. Witnesses said that it seemed to issue from Doug Johnson's AP Government class and that it had a vaguely Texan accent.
That explosion was David Cobb. Cobb was the last in a trio of speakers to visit the 16 Arcata High AP Government students. His predecessors, who had visited the week prior, had been representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties. Cobb, the 2004 Green Party presidential candidate, put a cap to the presentations with what can only be described as a bang.
Reiterating that he was not there to convince anyone to join any political party, Cobb led the class in a discussion that centered mainly around the importance of a plurality of parties and the current voting reform movement. An example brought up was that of a voter who identified most with a third party candidate, but would more likely vote for a Democrat or Republican than risk "wasting their vote" and helping to elect the candidate they least wanted. The dominant dualism of two major parties, Cobb explained, often deters voters from other candidates and thus results in a less accurate representation of the voting population.
Cobb then introduced to the students the newfangled notion of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). With IRV, a voter gets to rank candidates, casting a vote for 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice - as many as they'd like to choose - as opposed to the current method where each voter essentially gets one "first-choice" vote. While under the current system, a candidate could theoretically gain office with 35 percent of the vote (meaning 65 percent of voters wanted somebody else), IRV more effectively represents the majority's wishes. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest percentage is bumped, and all votes allotted to that individual then go to those voters' designated second choices. This process continues until a majority is achieved. IRV would eliminate "wasted votes" and allow people to truly express their political ideologies without fearing repercussions. Cobb explained that IRV is selectively implemented across the United States in various counties and states; it is also used by organizations such as Major League Baseball.
The students received Cobb enthusiastically. Prepared for another run of the mill presentation, heavy with pamphlets and a droning lecture-ish tone, they instead received an animated, articulate, fervent speaker who argued the practicality of the contraction "Y'all" and wrote wildly upon the whiteboard. At one point, to emphasize a particular topic, Cobb climbed atop a table and boomed down at the class. He remembered every individual's name he called upon, and engaged the entire body of students. Balding and bespectacled, David Cobb had the spirit of the revolution normally typical to young college students.
After the bell rang, half of the students stayed after class to continue the discussion, ignited by Cobb's obvious passion. Cobb was delighted. "I'm a bleeding heart little-'d' democrat," he told the eight lingering students. "This is real democracy - a little room of half a dozen people, thinking and talking together."
Though caught up in Cobb's charisma during the actual presentation, teenagers couldn't prevent skepticism creeping back into their mindsets after he had departed. "I think one of the reasons he was so well received was that he didn't attempt to adhere to any political structure; denouncing the whole current organization made it easy for him," said senior Jesse Alm. "He didn't need to impress anyone." Classmate Nate Zwerdling chimed in. "Yeah, it was awesome," said Nate, "but not very realistic." There was also a general feeling in the class that, like the other presenters who had visited AP Government, Cobb had construed a few choice events in history to suit his purpose. "I could see how his interpretation of history could be argued," said teacher Doug Johnson. "There were a few points which weren't quite clear to me." Still, the students had an intriguing class period, receiving something to discuss with their parents after the customary evening inquiry, "What'd you do in school today?" Overall consensus: better than notes. No offense, Mr. J.
(Molly Simas is a senior at Arcata High School.)