The importance of Ranked Choice

Originally published in the ORU Oracle:

There are 530 federally-elected officials registered as either Republican or Democrat. Three officials are independent. Two political parties cannot accurately represent the viewpoints of 329 million Americans. 

Even though the people of the United States directly elect their congresspeople based on region and state, most representatives tend to vote with their party most of the time. In 2016, 96% of House Democrats and House Republicans voted with their party on party unity votes, according to Brookings Institute. The numbers were just slightly lower in the Senate. Under President Obama, a majority of House Democrats sided with his position, averaging 85.75% of the time, and for Senate Democrats 94% of the time.

Due to this tendency toward partisanship, Americans need to elect more independents and third-party members. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans identify as independents. The partisan government is not representative of those independent perspectives.

One reason for the lack of third parties and independents is people voting against the candidates they dislike rather than voting for the candidate they most prefer. The Gallup poll found that 18% of those who initially identify as independents lean Democrat and 15% lean Republican when probed further. 

Even when people’s beliefs align most closely with a third-party candidate, they often won’t vote for that candidate because they feel it will be a wasted vote.

Introducing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) will help this situation as it has been used in Maine, Santa Fe, Oakland, San Francisco and several other municipalities. New York City voted in November to use RCV in city-level elections. RCV solves the issue of the wasted vote, allowing elections to produce the most accurate results.

With Ranked Choice Voting, voters rank candidates from most preferred to least preferred. If no one has a majority of first-choice votes, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and people who cast votes for them would have their second choice go as a first choice until a candidate has over 50% of the vote.

Maine voters approved a proposition in 2016 for Ranked Choice voting. Later on, Maine voters were allowed to use the system once and decide whether to keep it. Maine voters liked ranked-choice voting and chose to keep it.

The two primary benefits of RCV are that it prevents the need for runoff elections and ensures that the winning candidate is the one with the broadest support. Runoff elections occur when the leading candidate does not receive a majority of votes and is a competition between only the top two candidates from the first election. Ranked Choice Voting is sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting because no candidate can win without having more than 50% of the vote. It essentially performs the function of runoff elections by dividing all votes between the top two vote-getters.

Since voters can rank candidates in order of preference, they are voting for the candidates they most desire, rather than voting for one of the two most popular candidates out of fear that they will win. With RCV, the two major parties could no longer complain about third-party candidates spoiling elections because in the case where third-party candidates get the least amount of first-place votes, the second preference would be cast as a first-place vote. Ranked Choice Voting makes the two major parties appeal to the people or lose elections.


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