Ranked-Choice Voting is on the Holiday Wish List


Author Bio.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa – “the holidays” – are coming – and so are the 2018 elections!

On many politically conscious folks’ wish list is an alternative to the current election process. Most of us in the U.S. are used to ranked, plurality voting systems. Easy to understand, the candidate with the most votes wins.

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The problem with election by plurality is when there are two candidates with similar views on the ballot, voters may split the ticket between them, and a third candidate will be the ultimate winner.

One solution to candidate deadlock that is being considered in various parts of the nation goes by several names.

Instant-runoff voting (IRV), transferable vote, and ranked-choice voting (RCV) are all terms for a type of preferential voting system.

In this type of election, voters can rank all the candidates. Those with similar views can be ranked higher than “the nemesis” choice.

Once you grasp the idea, it’s really rather compelling. Here’s a simple example from Wikipedia:

“Suppose there are two candidates with similar views, A and B, and a third with different views, C, with first-preference totals of 35% for candidate A, 25% for B and 40% for C. In a plurality voting election, candidate C may win with 40% of the votes, even though 60% of electors prefer both A and B over C. Alternatively, voters are pressured to choose the seemingly stronger candidate of either A or B, despite personal preference for the other, in order to help ensure the defeat of C. With IRV, the electors backing B as their first choice can rank A second, which means candidate A will win by 60% to 40% over C despite the split vote in first choices.”

In the last U.S. presidential election, how many voters would have liked to have been able to rank the contenders in order to keep a certain one from winning?

Australia, India, and Ireland currently have instant-runoff elections for certain positions.

In the U.S., California approved RCV in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro.

The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that “Maine became the first state to authorize ranked-choice voting in 2016 for statewide races, including for the state Legislature and governor, and 14 states are considering similar measures.”

Maine is still making headlines, a year after voters approved Question 5 in November 2016. Maine lawmakers voted in October 2017 to delay the system until December 2021.

There is good reason for this: Maine’s Constitution says winners are to be determined by a plurality. On May 23, 2017 the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, highest in the state, ruled to uphold the state constitution, which is hardly surprising and entirely appropriate. Maine voters must change (amend) their state constitution before authorizing RCV.

It is clear that many U.S. voters are not happy with the way we elect our representatives. In this digital age, with high-speed computer processing available, there is no technical obstacle to implementing RCV.

The challenge to nation-wide adoption of RCV comes from its opponents, all of whom believe they stand to gain from plurality elections.

However, the status quo is being threatened, and change is occurring, bit by bit.

An organization that tracks bills in state legislatures, called FairVote, maintains that “Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional…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.”

An article on October 17, 2016 by Paul Raeburn in Newsweek quoted Kevin Zollman, a game theorist and associate professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University: “The big problem with the way we do elections now is we don’t ask people for their second choice.”

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to know, after an election, that the best candidate actually did win? And wouldn’t you rather rank candidates, by your preference, instead of having to agonize over “the better of two evils” – as many people do – when faced with a plurality choice?

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It is important to work with the U.S. legal system to bring about change, but some people get discouraged because turning the national ship of state takes time. Maine’s supporters of RCV do not like being told they have to amend their state constitution to get away from their plurality system, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will draft the appropriate legislation and “git ‘er done.”

Questioning authority and demanding the rights and responsibilities granted under the U.S. Constitution are American hallmarks. Reasonable people do not expect instant results, and will try, try again, when faced with setbacks.

In the ancient wisdom imparted by the Roman poet Ovid:

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

  1. Post Author

    In your article, you say that the Maine court “ruled to upload the state constitution,” and I assume that you meant “uphold” instead of “upload”. This is the kind of mistake that people make online when they are in a hurry, and it happens all the time. I would rather not inject that uncertainty into the election process. I can tell you years in advance when the election is going to happen. There is no rush, and there is no reason, real or imagined, why someone can’t vote for a particular candidate. The campaigns are run while fully tailored for our election process, as well they should be. These schemes remind me of “The Monty Hall Problem”. https://is.gd/2RCRcZ But that was a TV game show, unlike er, um, the last campaign.

    • Post Author

      Thank you for pointing out the hasty grammatical error you spotted, and for sharing your observations, Dear Reader.

  2. Post Author

    This concept of “weighted voting” was first described as “Dynamic Value Voting” (DVV) and applied to a variety of decision processes by my father, Dr. Merrill M. Flood (1908-1991), an eminent mathematician who earned his Ph.D. at Princeton on worked there at the Institute for Advanced Studies with Albert Einstein, John von Nuemann and numerous other prominent scientists and mathematicians in the 1940’s creating the field of mathematics initially named “Game Theory” and later labeled as “Decision Theory”.

    It’s first application of note was to choose which experiments would be put on early satellites such as Voyager I and II. Scientists and government officials were all asked to rank-order vote for all candidate projects, with the NASA Director given multiple votes. The projects with the greatest mathematical score were chosen to go for the ride.

    Dynamic Value Voting was subsequently used in such diverse areas as choosing faculty committees at the University of Indiana School of Nursing and helping decide which items should be included on the Burger King menu. Perhaps my father’s most controversial idea was his suggestion that DVV be used to chose the President of the United States. His research paper, entitled “Let’s Redesign Democracy”, was reported on by the Ann Arbor News and the concept was considered so radical that he almost lost tenure at The University of Michigan.

  3. Post Author

    Sounds like a wonderful idea. How could we go about getting this in South Carolina? Probably too late to save the Republican seat in Alabama, where Judge Roy Moore may not obtain a plurality.

  4. Post Author

    . . . Omitted from the article is a strong reason for implementing some form or Instant-Runoff Voting (such as Ranked-Choice Voting, or Approval Voting (there are a number of slightly differing systems or IRV) — it saves the taxpayers money! Many runoff elections cost millions of dollars, requiring nearly as much expenses as the original election.
    . . . Runoff elections often give additional advantage to incumbents, who by name-recognition and sometimes corruption have more campaign money; the challenger may have spent most of their money to win a primary or initial general election, and not have much left for another (runoff) campaign, whereas the incumbent may have more leftover funds for the runoff.

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