In recent years, concerns about the state of democracy in the United States have grown. Many people feel disenchanted with the two-party system, where the winner-takes-all approach often leads to polarization, negative campaigning, and a lack of true representation. Fortunately, there is a solution that has been gaining traction across the nation: Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).
Today, I want to explore with you how implementing RCV can breathe new life into our democracy and ensure that every vote counts, while creating incentives for everyone from voters like you and me to politicians, their advisors, staff and the industry that supports them, for all to behave for the benefit of all.
So, What is This Thing, This Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked Choice Voting, also known as instant-runoff voting or preferential voting, is a simple upgrade to our existing voting system. Instead of our current voting single choice voting system, where we get to choose one among many as our preferred candidate, we get the opportunity, not necessity, to rank candidates in order of each of our preferences.
So, in a multi-candidate race like the primaries, if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the people who voted for that person as their first choice…well, their second choice votes are counted. This process continues until a candidate gets a majority and is declared the winner.
That’s it. That simple. Anyone who claims it’s more complicated than that should be asked whether they’ve ever found it difficult to rank their favorite deserts or vacation destinations. What I mean is that it’s simple enough that we do it every day for practically everything we do, from choosing where to eat with family to prioritizing our day’s activities and chores. It’s second nature for all of us, even kids as young as four years old know how to do this for such complex things as delayed gratification.
1..2..3…Break…the Duopoly, That Is
One of the significant advantages of Ranked Choice Voting is that it encourages the participation of diverse political candidates and independent voices. The traditional two-party system often leaves voters feeling like they have to choose the “lesser of two evils” rather than supporting candidates who truly align with their values. RCV allows individuals to vote for their preferred candidate without the fear of “wasting” their vote, as their second or third choices may come into play during the tabulation process.
But, hey. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the total number and diversity of political parties in Australia where RCV has been used for elections for over a century.
Promoting Positive Campaigning
This is where it gets really interesting. Since politicians can’t rely on just their first ranking, when Ranked Choice Voting is implemented, they’re naturally incentivized to reach out to a broader base of voters and build coalitions. Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola who won in an RCV election in that State’s first statewide RCV election said this about her change in behavior, “I could not afford to alienate my opponents’ supporters.” So, she went door-to-door, even those she knew were considering other candidates, to speak with the voters and hear what was their concerns and needs. When was the last time you had a member of your opposing party actually genuinely listening to you and wanting to address your concerns?
In RCV elections, candidates are inherently encouraged to change their tactics from a winner-take-all and focus-only-on-the-base campaigning to, instead, engaging in more positive and issue-based campaigns since they need to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters, including those who may not have ranked them as their first choice. Negative campaigning becomes less effective since it risks alienating potential second or third-choice voters. This shift promotes a more civil and constructive political discourse.
Increased Voter Satisfaction and Representation
Under the current winner-takes-all system, there is a risk of a candidate winning with a minority of the votes. This can leave a significant portion of the electorate feeling unheard and unrepresented. As a result, we have lower and lower voter turnouts, and less confidence that the system and the candidates are listening and care about our needs. Ranked Choice Voting ensures that the candidate elected truly reflects the will of the majority. By accounting for second and subsequent choices, RCV provides voters with more options and increases the likelihood that their voice is taken into account during the election process. So, they turnout more, as has been shown in various cities in the US.
Runoff Elections and Cost Savings
Traditionally, when no candidate receives an outright majority, a separate runoff election is held. However, this process can be time-consuming and expensive. Ranked Choice Voting eliminates the need for separate runoff elections, saving both time and money. Moreover, it encourages more voter participation by condensing the election process into a single event, reducing voter fatigue and logistical challenges.
With the potential of eliminating the Primaries, where typically only a third to a half of those who vote in the General election show up, would mean an additional time and cost savings to the state, as well as a better representation of the will of the majority during the General election.
Implementation Challenges and Success Stories
While the adoption of Ranked Choice Voting may face initial hurdles, several states and municipalities have successfully implemented it. For example, Maine became the first state to use RCV in federal elections, including the U.S. House and Senate races. Alaska was the second state and used it for their statewide elections in 2020. Nevadans voted to adopt RCV back in 2022 and, due to their state constitutional requirements for such a change, will vote to fully adopt it in 2024. A lot of individual cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Minneapolis, have also embraced RCV. These success stories highlight the viability and benefits of implementing RCV at various levels of government.
What’s the Bottom Line
Ranked Choice Voting represents a crucial step towards resuscitating democracy in the United States. By providing voters with more choice, promoting positive campaigning, and ensuring that elected candidates have majority support, RCV fosters a healthier political environment than the toxic process we’ve all seen ooze out of our current system over the last few decades. It encourages diverse representation, fosters cooperation, and revitalizes citizens’ faith in the democratic process.
So, the question that remains is how will you become involved with passing Ranked Choice Voting in your city, county and state? Here in California, you can join CalRCV or, at the national state, you can look to FairVote or RankTheVote.
Come join me and let’s make our democracy, our republic, work for all of us.