Could Ranked Choice Voting Make 2024 Go Smoothly?

We all probably agree the election of November 2020 could have gone more smoothly. I have been thinking about 2024 and beyond and how the process could be improved. I have written extensively about mobile blockchain voting as an improved method of voting. The purpose of this article is to share my vision for the overall process, not just the method of voting. The changes I am suggesting would require action by Congress, and we all know how hard it is to get Congress to agree on anything, so my vision may not happen soon. Nevertheless, I will share the vision and look forward to your feedback.

The first part of the vision has to do with political parties. What we have today is basically a two-party system. It is quite clear all voters do not nicely fit into one or the other. At a minimum we should have five parties. There are different ways to name the parties but for starters I will call them Democrat, Progressive Democrat, Republican, Conservative Republican, and Independent. There are numerous smaller parties such as Constitution, Green, and Libertarian. Every party would need a leader and an organization to raise funds to make their platforms visible.

The second part of the vision is to make it easy to register to vote. I live in Florida where we have the Motor-Voter Law, which means when a person receives a driver license or makes a change to an existing one, he or she are asked if they would like to register to vote. Some states have gone further with Automatic Voter Registration which means when a citizen has an interaction with any government agency, his or her voter information can be electronically, accurately, and securely transmitted to election officials. Federal control of the process is not needed, but the Federal government should mandate standardized data formats so states can easily identify voters who have moved or died. Modernizing voter registration does not require rocket science, it just needs an election attitude.

Part three includes open primaries. In Florida, I am a registered independent, which means I cannot vote in the primary. I would like to see all states do what North Dakota did, which is allow all registered voters to vote in the primary and vote for whoever they want from any party. The top 5 (could be 7 or even more) candidates from the primary would then become the slate for the general election in November 2024.

The final part of the vision is to use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for the general election. Maine has already adopted RCV, but I would like to see all States use it. Instead of voting for one of the two major parties, with RCV, voters would rank the five candidates, first choice, second choice, etc. If a candidate receives a majority of the first choice votes cast for an office, that candidate will be elected. This is highly unlikely. If no candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes cast, a runoff process begins.

The candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Next, each ballot cast for the losing candidate would have its second, third, fourth, and fifth choices transferred to the vote totals for the remaining four candidates. Next, the remaining candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and each ballot cast for the losing candidate would have its second, third, fourth, and fifth choices transferred to the vote totals for the remaining three candidates. The elimination process continues until a candidate receives a majority and is deemed the winner. You can see an animated visualization of RCV at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z2fRPRkWvY.

RCV offers a number of advantages over the traditional voting process. There is no need for expensive runoff elections. In 2014, Alabama had a runoff election for several elected positions. It cost the state $3 million. RCV assures a candidate with a majority will win. With traditional voting, candidates for Mayor and Governor can be elected even when most voters are opposed to them. With RCV, that cannot happen.

A more subtle advantage of ranked choice voting is it can discourage negative campaigning. This is not guaranteed, but in traditional voting elections, candidates sometimes benefit from mudslinging. With RCV, candidates do best by connecting with as many voters as possible, including those voters who support an opponent. Those voter’s second choice might help the leading candidate to get to 50%.

I believe democracy is stronger when more voices are heard. RCV, where more than two candidates compete without fear of splitting the vote, ensures all voices are heard and every vote counts in every election. RCV encourages voting for candidates voters support, not just voting against candidates they oppose. When there are only two candidates, voters may feel they need to vote for the lesser of two evils. By ranking multiple candidates, voters can feel they expressed their preferences without being influenced by mass media or social media about which of two candidates will win. The ranked choices allow people to think about all the candidates, not just one or two. Additionally, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said racial minority populations would prefer ranked choice voting, find it easy to use, and it would increase voter participation significantly.

More than 20 cities and counties are using RCV. There are a couple of obstacles. First, many cities do not have the proper equipment to perform the instant runoff. Existing voting machines are programmed to only count the number of votes for each candidate. Machines could be reprogrammed but that would require funding and lengthy approval processes. The concern about not having the funds to purchase new voting machines presents an excellent opportunity to move to Internet voting where ranked choice voting could be implemented on the existing voting server. A second concern is the potential confusion of voting for multiple candidates.

Voter registration and election voting processes are complex topics.   Because the Founding Fathers gave the States near autonomy to administer elections, it is difficult for standardized changes to be made. In Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy, I examined some of the complexities and provided political leaders and election officials background material to help them as they consider alternatives to the aging voting infrastructure.

Computer scientists across the country have accomplished extraordinary developments in cloud computing, analytics for big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and an inter-planetary Internet. All of these areas faced skeptics and critics who said, “It couldn’t be done”. I believe working with election officials, voting machine vendors, computer scientists, and software engineers we can solve the challenges and complexities of modernized voting. As a result, Americans could be proud of a stronger democracy with the highest voter participation in the world.