Ranked Choice Voting: Yea? Nay?

Ranked Choice Voting vs Two Party System | The Cartoons of Forest TaberNAY

Virginia’s GOP conducted a nominating convention utilizing ranked choice voting (RCV) among delegates to select statewide candidates. New York City recently concluded a Democratic primary under RCV.

RCV is intended to afford voters an opportunity to order choices for a candidacy or office by rating individuals in order of preference. The process permits a field of multiple office seekers who may or may not achieve a majority of ballots cast. The equation rolls up the lowest ranked choices to the next level until a majority appears.  

RCV eliminates runoff contests and binary voter choices. At the same time, RCV does not enhance direct voter participation in the choice selection as the successful candidate under RCV arrives in the lead by formula. It may appease reformers who believe political campaigns consume and require too much money since RCV eliminates runoffs.

Traditionalists argue that RCV does not contribute to voter choice since its formulaic process functions to make choices in successive rounds. While RCV may winnow larger fields of candidates, the majority victor is not necessarily the people’s first or direct choice.

Traditionalists argue that RCV does not contribute to voter choice since its formulaic process functions to make choices in successive rounds not by direct voter participation.. While RCV may winnow larger fields of candidates, the majority victor is not necessarily the people’s first or direct choice. The result is that the victor cannot claim a mandate even in favor of published campaign positions. This shortcoming may be acceptable in a primary contest but presents questions in a general election for both the candidate and platform planks.

RCV advocates argue that the selection process encourages voter participation because a multi-candidate field offers a greater selection of choices. That proposition is not proven and, in fact, may be interpreted to be counterproductive to developing an attractive political platform among many competing candidates.  While RCV has been employed in a small number of contests across the nation, proponents have not offered that the outcomes benefit either democracy or the jurisdictions.

This criticism may have played a part in the VA GOP determination to conduct RCV for its convention. The state party did not suggest that Virginia’s open primary process would invite Democratic voters to express dissatisfaction. Conversely, the closed primary convention certainly was less expensive than a competitive open primary. Open primary states offer voters of all spectra the chance to participate, compelling candidates to be mindful of appealing to the widest audience.

On the whole, RCV may be superficially attractive for reasons of campaign and governmental economies but presents little convincing evidence that it improves the democratic selection process or increases participation. At the same time that RCV opens campaign opportunity to a larger potential field of candidates, it also may detract from the dynamic necessity for political coherence. Binary voting is not by definition an anti-democratic selection method.

YEA

While might does not make right, more people appear to favor ranked-choice voting (RCV) than oppose it. And its use is growing. New York City’s recent Democratic primary brought more national attention to RCV, which instituted the system after 73.5% of NYC voters in 2019 voiced their approval. It is also being used in dozens of jurisdictions across the country, and has been utilized in six state primaries and caucuses. Why?

In short, because it enlarges a voter’s choice of candidates. Rather than having to choose one of two running for a specific office, RCV lets a voter rank–first, second, third, fourth, and fifth choice–his or her preferences. In this way, a voter is not forced to pick just one candidate in a top-down, winner-take-all contest, sometimes having to choose “the lesser of two evils.” It’s almost like a runoff election in advance, but with more than just two choices. Not to mention that turnout often falls off dramatically in runoffs.

Imagine what can happen today in a simple plurality-vote system: Large fields split up common voting blocs. So most voters might overwhelmingly prefer to elect identified environmentalists, say, to their town council, and a dozen environmentalists might show up to vie for that spot — but as the green dozen divides up the majority of votes, a single pro-fossil-fuel candidate who stirs up anti-environmental sentiment could win with only a small fraction of total votes cast. Does this really represent the will of most of the people?

A Washington Post editorial titled “Ranked-choice voting worked in New York” said that RCV encouraged candidates to seek compromise and identify a second- , third- , etc.,  -choice of voters who did not choose them as number one. RCV benefited candidates who are more broadly acceptable to more voters. And the system provided the city with more information about what voters wanted. RCV elevates candidates with the broadest possible support. In fact, everywhere it has been adopted, it has replaced the politics of personal destruction with positive coalition politics. As the Post piece points out, “[RCV] makes it harder for candidates with a fervent but narrower base of support to eke out a victory.”

Ultimately, by requiring the winner to reach more than 50 percent of the vote, ranked-choice voting ensures the winning candidate is the one with the broadest appeal to the majority of voters. Is this not what we should want?

Between 1992 and 2019, 49 US senators from 27 states won election with less than 50 percent of the vote. Yes, if one candidate got 46 percent, another 31 and another 23, the one getting 46 percent outran the others. But how comfortable are people being represented by someone getting less than half of the vote? In addition, ranked-choice voting is less expensive and discourages negative campaigning. Yes, it would be a new system for many to learn. But it’s not that difficult. 

Ultimately, by requiring the winner to reach more than 50 percent of the vote, ranked-choice voting ensures the winning candidate is the one with the broadest appeal to the majority of voters. Is this not what we should want?

 

 

 

 



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