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Ranked Choice Voting

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), there are currently 168 million registered voters in the United States. It is likely this number will rise as a result of pushes by Taylor Swift, Zuckerbergs, and others to get young people to register. According to a recent poll, 36% of Americans say they do not have a favorable view of either President Biden or former President Trump. If these numbers are accurate, it means more than 60 million voters don’t like either candidate. They have two choices: hold their nose and vote for the candidate they least dislike or choose not to vote.

There are a number of factors that may be contributing to this trend. One factor is the increasing polarization of American politics. Voters are increasingly divided along partisan lines, and they are less likely to be open to the views of the other side. The polarization makes it difficult for millions of voters to find a candidate they like and trust. Another factor is the dissatisfaction with the status quo. Many Americans are unhappy with the way the country is being run, and they are looking for a change. This dissatisfaction has led to a rise in independent voters, who are not affiliated with either major political party. According to the EAC, there are 35.3 million registered independents in the United States as of October 2022. This represents 28.55% of all registered voters and the number is increasing.

With a significant number of voters disliking both Biden and Trump, the 2024 presidential election could be very competitive. It could be one of the most unpredictable in recent history. It is time to rethink how we elect our government officials.

Libraries named for Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Regan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, LBJ, Kennedy, Truman, Roosevelt, and Hoover have issued a joint statement regarding the future of our nation and an urgent call to action for all Americans. They unanimously believe our democracy is at risk. In the statement from the 13 presidential centers the libraries affirmed their “commitment to the principles of democracy underlining this great nation, protecting our freedom, and respecting our fellow citizens.”

There is a growing belief ranked choice voting (RCV) can lead to more civil elections with majority winners and a more unified America. RCV is not perfect, and there are critics. However, dissatisfaction with the current system is bolstering consideration of the new approach.

RCV, also known as instant-runoff voting, is a voting system which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. This means voters can select their first choice, second choice, third choice, fourth choice, or even more. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the voters’ second choices. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes. RCV is a more fair and representative voting system than traditional “first-past-the-post” voting, where the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of whether they have a majority. One prominent member of Congress was elected with only 36% of the vote. RCV ensures the winning candidate has the support of a majority of voters, and it gives voters more choice and power.

Let’s take a look at how RCV works. Suppose there are three candidates in a race: A, B, and C. After the first round of voting, A got 40%, B got 35%, and C got 25%. Since no candidate got a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes, C, is eliminated. Votes cast for C are then redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the C voters’ second choices. The results of the second round of voting redistribution of the votes for C were A has 55% and B has 45%. Since A now has a majority of the votes, A is the winner of the election.

There are numerous potential benefits to RCV. It can strengthen our democracy in a number of ways. First, it ensures the winning candidate has the support of a majority of voters. In traditional voting, the candidate with the most votes wins, even if they do not have a majority. This can lead to situations where the winning candidate does not represent the views of the majority of voters. RCV solves this problem by ensuring the winning candidate has the support of a majority of voters. It gives voters more choice and power. In traditional voting, voters often feel like they have to vote for a candidate they don’t really like, just to prevent another candidate from winning. RCV gives voters more choice and power by allowing them to rank candidates in order of preference. This means voters can vote for their favorite candidate, even if they don’t think they will win.

RCV can reduce negative campaigning. In traditional voting, candidates are often incentivized to engage in negative campaigning in order to attack their opponents. RCV reduces the incentive for negative campaigning because candidates know they need to appeal to a broad range of voters in order to win. Voters who ranked them as second or third choice could cause them to win. Voters are more likely to vote if they feel like their vote matters and they have a real chance to elect their preferred candidate.

The bottom line is RCV can be a more fair, representative, and democratic voting system than traditional “first-past-the-post” voting. It is a system worth considering for all types of elections, from local to national. As of August 2023, there are over 100 government entities in the United States that use ranked-choice voting (RCV) including Alaska, Maine, New York City, NY, Minneapolis, MN, St. Paul, MN, San Francisco, CA, Oakland, CA, Berkeley, CA, Cambridge, MA, Santa Cruz, CA, Portland, OR, Boulder, CO, and Fargo, ND. The number is growing.

It is too late to implement RCV on a nationwide basis for 2024. Implementation can get complicated, and people can get confused. I believe mobile blockchain voting will ultimately make RCV very simple. Boston-based Voatz is making great strides with this.

I have written more about RCV in Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy.

Epilogue: RCV would be a natural to modernize how the House of Representatives picks its speaker and other key House leaders. The current approach, a series of simple majority ballots, can easily lead to capitulation to extremists. RCV voting could enable an instant runoff and certify the winner who has the deepest and widest support. Implementation would be easy with just 435 voters. It makes so much sense it will surely not be considered.