Multiple Choice: Get ready to rank, America.

Voters should be able to vote for candidates they support; not just vote against candidates they oppose most. Sometimes voters may feel that they need to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” because their favorite candidate is less likely to win. With ranked choice voting, you can rank candidates in order of choice without concern of how others will vote and who is more or less likely to win.

Julianna Truesdale

Ranked-Choice Voting might fix America’s dysfunctional politics

Too often, candidates win election to offices such as Mayor or Governor despite being opposed by many voters. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) ensures that officials are elected with an outright majority when there are three or more candidates, and to elevate those with the widest appeal.

What is ranked-choice voting?

When used to elect a single office, ranked choice voting may be called instant runoff voting, because it allows a jurisdiction to have the benefits of runoff elections without the need for a second round of voting. Rather than checking a box for just one candidate, voters rank all candidates in order of preference. If a candidate earns a majority of the votes, he or she wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and his or her ballots get redistributed to whomever those voters ranked second. If another round is needed, the process continues, eliminating the candidate with the next fewest votes, until one candidate has a majority.

Here’s a great video of how ranked-choice voting (RCV) works:

In a multi-winner election, RCV promotes majority rule because the majority of voters will always be able to elect a majority of seats, without fear that an entrenched minority has used gerrymandered districts to ensure they stay in office.

Multi-winner RCV is best explained in this video:

With RCV, voters can rank as many candidates as they want without fear that ranking others will hurt the chances of their favorite candidate. RCV is straightforward for voters: rank candidates in order of choice, from first to last (though they can always choose to vote for just one candidate). If one candidate gathers a majority of first-place votes when all votes are in, then that candidate wins. It does this by counting the votes in rounds: First, every vote counts for its first choice. If a candidate has more than half of the votes based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has more than half of those first-choice votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.

Ranked-Choice Voting changes campaigns and elections in many important ways.

Discourages negative campaigning

In non-ranked choice voting elections, candidates benefit from “mud-slinging” by attacking an opponent’s character instead of sharing their positive vision with voters. With ranked choice voting, candidates do best when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents.

Encourages voter turnout.

A study of 79 elections in 26 American cities found that RCV was associated with a 10% increase in turnout compared with non-RCV primary and run-off elections. Voters turned off by the front-runners have more incentive to vote. They can give their first-choice vote to their favorite candidate while strategically allocating their other choices.

Provides More Choice for Voters

Democracy is strongest when more of our voices are heard. Too often, efforts are made to limit the number of candidates who compete in order to avoid “vote splitting,” in which candidates win with very little support. This limits voters’ choices. Ranked choice voting allows more than two candidates to compete without fear of splitting the vote.

Saves Money When Replacing Primaries or Runoffs

Many local offices are elected in two rounds of elections; either a primary narrowing the field to two followed by a general election, or a general election followed by a runoff if no candidate has a majority. In either case, the election that takes place outside of the context of the general Election Day often suffers from very weak and unrepresentative turnout while raising issues of vote splitting in the first round. Ranked choice voting can accomplish the benefits of a primary/runoff election structure with only one election, avoiding these issues while saving the costs of running two elections. That’s why ranked choice voting is often called “instant runoff voting” when used to elect mayors, governors, and other single-winner offices.

Promotes Reflective Representation

Compared to winner-take-all elections, ranked-choice voting in multi-winner contests allows more diverse groups of voters to elect candidates of choice. Even in single-winner races, ranked choice voting can promote the representation of historically under-represented groups such as racial and ethnic minorities and women. RCV promotes diversity of political viewpoint as well as diversity of candidate’s backgrounds and demographics, which better represents all of us.

Ranked-choice voting is not new. Australia has used it for a century and currently cities in seven states in America have adopted it. On June 12, 2018 Maine conducted the first-ever statewide election using ranked-choice voting. Two candidates who were trailing in the polls figured they could boost their chances by campaigning for second-place votes, so they created an alliance in which they were civil and even supported each other. Maine’s experiment should interest anyone tired of America’s cripplingly partisan politics. RCV may be unable to force liberals and conservatives to like each other, but it could at least soften the electoral effects of hyper-partisanship.

One organization actively supporting the RCV approach is FairVote, a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.

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