What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked choice votingRanked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact. The best way to illustrate how it works and the benefit can be found in an example of how it works.

Let’s say we have a race with five candidates. Four are pretty progressive and one is far more conservative. Without Ranked Choice Voting, the four progressive candidates could split 75% of the vote but with none achieving more than 20% of the vote and the conservative candidate could win the election with 25% of the vote. If the situation is reversed and there are four conservative candidates and one liberal candidate, the liberal could win with only 25% of the vote. In either case, democracy is not served.

In some communities, primaries are held and the two candidates with the most votes compete in a runoff, but experience shows that turnout in runoffs drops dramatically and running two campaigns is expensive for the jurisdiction AND for the candidates who then must turn to donors to support two campaigns.  This favors candidates with connections to large donors.

With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. So in the example above, those voters are progressive could vote for their favorite candidate and then rank in order, their second, third and fourth choices. When the vote is over, certified and heavily tested software tallies the votes. If one candidate gets 50% plus one, no ranking is needed s/he wins. But if no one achieves 50% of the vote, the software automatically eliminates the last place candidate and takes all of his/her votes, examines who his/her voters selected second and allocates those votes to the remaining candidates. If no one yet achieves 50% of the vote, then the remaining candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his/her voters’ second  choices are allocated to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate emerges with 50% plus one vote.

Aside from this situation, there are many other benefits to RCV.  Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. A candidate can’t just talk with folks he/she thinks will likely vote for him/her, an effort must be made to garner as many 2nd and 3rd choices as possible and that requires engaging the entire community. A benefit of this is that RCV discourages negative campaigning. If Candidate A runs a negative campaign against Candidate B, not many of B’s supporters will rank Candidate A very highly. So you also wind up with a more positive campaign tone. Boy do we need that.

In the end, when used as an “instant runoff” to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.

Click here for information on the Emergency City Council meeting and the Rally, both on Monday. The link also includes info on how you can contact City Councilors to encourage their vote for RCV. Despite a Court Order directing the City to implement RCV now, we are one vote short on the City Council and they will vote on Monday.