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.
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?
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.”