Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

Ranked-Choice Voting: New Voting for a New Era

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John Winthrop is well known and quoted for a speech that he gave in Plymouth. He is known for saying, 'For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.' While he was talking about his new congregation as the city and the eyes of all people meaning the Catholic Church, today we see it mainly used about the United States as the city and the eyes of the people like the rest of the world. It has been quoted by political leaders over the years and will likely continue to be quoted by many more. Does the question then become are we a city on a hill today? Our Constitution, at the time written, was almost unheard of. The Framers created a form of government that gave power to the people but not enough that the majority could ever rule. The Framers put many safe holds to prevent a king from ruling over them again. Something that The Framers could not have seen is a country with a diverse population of 327.2 million in 2018*(get citation).

While we are still a young country, things have changed rapidly, and it is time to update the way our country does election. Democracy has evolved and so should our elections. There are many things that we could explore to change our elections such as, using apps and websites for voting, abolishing the electoral college, or allowing people to be automatically registered to vote. The topic that I want to focus on in this paper is ranked-choice voting. I will explain what it is, the criticisms, and why the United States needs to move to a new system of electing officials. I surveyed my fellow Walters State classmates and I received 53 responses. I asked ten different questions, but the last question was, 'Do you support ranked-choice voting?' The responses were a virtual three-way tie. I made options for yes, no, and other/leave a comment. I noticed that most people wrote in comments, 'I don't know what this is.' This led me to believe that even some of my yes and no answers were likely skewed.

I can only go off the data people provided and trust that, but I believe that some of my earlier questions may have led people to believe that ranked-choice voting was something entirely different. I would be interested to see if I were able to take 53 people and explain what ranked-choice voting is, then allow them to answer another survey to see if my results would be similar. The ranked-choice voting system would mean that when casting your ballot for any elected official that you would be allowed to list them by ranking them as first choice, second choice, and on until you were done of out of choices.

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Then the results are tallied and if someone has over 50% of the vote then they automatically win. The highest percentage of votes over 50% wins. If none of the candidates have over 50% then the person with the least number of votes gets dropped. Anyone that had that person as their number one choice would then move down to their second choice and it would continue until someone has 50% or more of the vote. The system that is currently in place operates so that even if you get the majority of the votes you can lose the election. We need to restructure the way we conduct elections to ensure our democracy is working for all citizens. Using the numbers from the Iowa caucus, here is an example of how ranked-choice voting may work.

I used Iowa as an example because they declare certain candidates not viable and people can realign with another candidate rather than 'wasting' their vote. In this way, it is like the method used in ranked-choice voting. I am just going to use 4 candidates for an example. In Iowa when people first aligned to a candidate 9 people aligned to Deval Patrick, 164 to Michael Bennet, 342 to Tulsi Gabbard, and 215 to Mike Bloomberg. At first alignment, Gabbard has the highest percentage of votes at 42%. In our current election system, she would now be the Democratic candidate.

When we use ranked-choice since she didn't get 50% of the vote we now use our steps to determine if that is still the case. First, Deval Patrick did the worst, so he is now out. His 9 voters will now have their second choice used. Let's pretend that all nine of those voters had Gabbard as their second choice, while that helps, she is still only at 48% of the vote. Then we would eliminate Bennet and all the people that ranked him as their first choice will then use their second choice. For the sake of this exercise, all of them choose Bloomberg as their second choice. That gives Bloomberg 52% of the vote. That would mean that Bloomberg is not the democratic candidate for the general election. Ranked-choice voting may sound complicated but, it is quite simple. It allows democracy to truly play out.

There are some criticisms of ranked-choice voting and how it would be used and implemented here in the United States. One of the first would be that states do not hold elections that same way. Some states have caucuses, which is where you go into a gym or community center and align with your candidate of choice. That candidate must have a certain percentage of votes to be viable. If I candidate is declared non-viable then you can realign with another candidate or choose to move to the uncommitted middle. Other states have closed primaries, which is where you must register with a party to vote in their primaries.

Last you have open primaries where you go in the day you vote and at that point declare if you will be voting republican or democrat. To make ranked-choice effective, you will likely need to have all states on the same page with how elections are conducted. Some people see this as an issue because dictating how elections are conducted has always been a state issue. There are some beliefs that this is going to allow the federal government more power. Another reason people are critical of ranked-choice voting is that they feel that it is too complicated.

Ranked-choice voting has been used in Maine since 2016. In an article by Time.com, author Anna Purna wrote, “Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, explains how ranked-choice voting can complicate elections for voters. Ranked-choice ballots can require voters to read up on more candidates and require more time in the voting booth, which can lead to voters making mistakes during voting. 'Our belief is that Maine voters do not know how to maximize their influence in ranked-choice elections by ranking all the candidates, which is compounded when political parties tell voters to rank only one candidate,' says Gagnon.” I believe that one could argue that this is also a perk to ranked-choice voting. Being informed about all the candidates does not seem like a bad thing but I could see how this could be tedious for someone less involved in politics.

The last reason that ranked-choice voting has been criticized is the fear that some could be used to rig the elections. Since the lowest person is dropped if a candidate doesn't reach 50%, some people think that campaigns will seek out third parties to try and allow their candidate to be the second choice. This seems far-fetched since you would then have to guarantee that your candidate would be their second choice. It would still require you to campaign and appeal to those voters. With any system, it is not always going to be fair to everyone, but we should always strive to.

There are many reasons why ranked-choice voting would be beneficial for American politics. FairVote is a movement that started in 1992 that concentrates on election reform. Ranked-choice voting is something they have been advocating for. Their website lists the many benefits of ranked-choice voting including; allowing voters more choices, discouraging negative campaigning, promotes majority support, saves money when replacing preliminaries and run-offs, promotes reflective representation, minimizes strategic voting, and increases participation from military and overseas voters.

I conducted a very informal survey asking people if they would consider voting third party if they believed in the candidate. Every person that was asked responded the same way, that they would really want to but that would be a waste in our current system. We should be able to vote for the person we feel is best for the job even if there are not part of the two-party system. People should not feel that they are “wasting” their vote by casting a vote for the person that they think is best. From the survey that I took from fellow classmates I asked them, “Do you believe that two-party system works?” I gave them three choices; Yes, we are a large country and we need to narrow down our options, No, we are a large country and therefore we need more options to represent us, and other/leave a comment.

62% of people said that the two-party system does not work. Allowing more options means that we could essentially see the two-party system eliminated. America has such a diverse population that having more choices would also enable a more diverse selection of candidates including more people of color and women. Voter turnout is at an all time low. People have lost faith in out government and that has led to many people choosing not to vote at all. In the survey I conducted of my fellow classmates, I asked, “Do you trust our government.” 64% said that they didn’t.

If you don’t trust your own government then why would you want to vote for any of the candidates that are representing the two parties? If people had more options and felt that their voice was truly heard, then we would see and uptick in voter turnout. Maine has been utilizing ranked-choice voting since 2016 and they currently rank among the top states for voter turn-out. Having your voice heard does not just mean that you have more options. With ranked-choice voting the system for tallying votes is also fairer. It is no longer just a winner take all system. Votes are tallied, and the winner will now need at least 50% of the votes to win. In an article from Time.com, when explaining how it may affect our elections author Anna Purna says, “Ranked-choice voting advocates argue that the plurality system doesn't always reflect the true will of the people.

It can lead to vote-splitting among candidates with similar positions, resulting in a candidate who is less popular overall being elected, experts say. That's called the 'Nader' effect or the 'spoiler' effect. The most notorious example of this is the 2000 presidential election, when nearly 3 million mostly left-leaning voters cast their ballots for third-party candidate Ralph Nader. If ranked-choice voting had been in place at the time, Democrat Al Gore may have prevailed in the key state of Florida, where neither Gore nor Republican George W. Bush won a majority of the vote, says Don Saari, author of Decisions and Elections. (Florida was the center of a vote-counting scandal, and Bush's narrow win there ensured his ascension to the White House, despite losing the popular vote nationwide.) 'Gore was the second-place choice of many of Ralph Nader's supporters, particularly in the states of Florida and New Hampshire, where Bush narrowly won,' says Saari. 'A goal of Nader's Green Party was to reach a certain percentage of the total vote, which is a reason why many Nader voters did not want to vote for their second-ranked Gore.”

Ranked-choice voting would also help discourage negative campaigning because you also want to be a persons second choice. Politics has a reputation for being dirty, if there was a way to allow our candidates to be better people then that could only benefit American citizens. Ranked-choice voting matters to me because I do not feel that I have ever been represented in the general elections in 2012, 2016, and most likely in 2020. I have voted independent the last two election cycles. I take voting seriously and I know that it is a privilege that many women before me did not have. When I vote, I vote for someone that represents me and I never feel that I “waste” a vote when I vote independent, but I do wish that it made more of an impact.

I don’t believe in voting for the lesser of two evils. If they are both evil, then they are not representative of how I want my country ran. I advocate strongly for ranked choice voting because I want other people to feel that way. I want others to feel that they can feel comfortable casting a vote for a candidate that represents them. Ranked-choice voting has already been adopted in Australia, New Zealand, Malta, and Ireland. “Australia first introduced ranked-choice voting more than a century ago, and the system has helped the country avoid vote-splitting by allowing voters to still vote for less-popular and similar candidates that they like.

'Voters liked it because it gave them more choice so they didn't need to worry about wasting their vote if they wanted to vote for one of the smaller parties,' says Benjamin Reilly, an electoral system design expert at the University of Western Australia, pointing out how ranked-choice systems allow voters to avoid guilt by giving them the option to express support for third-party candidates as well as candidates from bigger parties. Additionally, it has proved to be a sort of 'prophylactic against extremism,' helping to strengthen the political center, Reilly says.” When America was founded, we were a city on a hill. A shining example. If we want to continue that legacy then we should adopt ranked-choice voting and show what it could do for a large, diverse population. We need to once again strive to be a city on a hill, the eyes of the world are upon us.

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