Ranked Choice Voting, or Instant Run-Off Voting, is by far the most superior method of electing representatives available in the United States – and yet, I never hear about it. Why?
What Is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)?
Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank their candidate choices from first to worst. Imagine, no more voting for candidates that are your second or third choices just to prevent someone far worse from gaining a nomination or winning. Think what this could have meant to E.W. Jackson who shared supporters with Delegate Nick Freitas and Supervisor Corey Stewart. Everyone that wanted E.W. Jackson could have ranked him number one with either Corey Stewart or Nick Freitas number two. No one would have had to vote against anyone. Everyone could have walked away from the polls happy.
How Does It Work?
According to Fairvote.ORG,
For a single office, like for a mayor or governor, RCV helps to elect a candidate more reflective of a majority of voters in a single election even when several viable candidates are in the race. It does this by counting the votes in rounds:
First, every vote counts for its first choice. If a candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.
The greatest benefits of this system are that, instantly, the candidate with the broadest support wins, everyone gets to vote for their favorite candidate, and there is no time-consuming and expensive run-off elections.
Imagine how much more interesting the Republican Primary process in 2016 would have been if we could have ranked our candidates from first to worst in every state, utilizing instant run-offs to determine a single winner in every state. The results may not have been different, but I think you would have seen a great deal more candidates able to remain in the race after Iowa and New Hampshire.
RCV or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is the most “republican” manner for selecting our candidates. In fact, RCV/IRV would make conventions a triviality.
While Constitutional Amendments would be necessary for using RCV/IRV for statewide and national general elections, imagine just how many problems this would solve! If you really do favor the Libertarian candidate over the Republican candidate, you could vote Libertarian without any guilty knowledge of having “really voted for the Democrat”.
Not only would RCV/IRV encourage more people to run and offer minority wings of the Democrat and Republican Party a taller seat at the table, it would also have the benefit of reducing negative campaigning.
In non-ranked choice voting elections, candidates benefit from “mud-slinging” by attacking an opponent’s character instead of sharing their positive vision with voters. With ranked choice voting, candidates do best when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents. A comprehensive Rutgers University poll of voters in 7 cities with ranked choice voting found that voters report friendlier campaigns and that RCV had majority support in all of the cities using it.
RCV/IRV Would Grow The Republican Party
Big Tents discourage participation when establishments decide (using vastly superior fundraising operations) on a single candidate. Ranked-Choice Voting would allow every faction to rank their candidate 1st, with the possibility that many other factions may, in fact, rank their candidate 2nd.
This is one of the only benefits of a convention process. The 2nd most popular candidate sometimes has the broadest support within the party. They are often the ones capable of uniting the party around a single candidate. Well, with RCV/IRV, the same thing can happen if the most popular candidate doesn’t enjoy majority support.
More people would be willing to join and participate in Republican Party politics if they felt that their voice actually mattered. In fact, what would be the point in having Libertarian, Constitution, or Whig parties if all of these folks could have a more meaningful seat at the Republican Table.
Finally, RCV/IRV Empowers Our Military Men and Women
This is an important point.
Protecting the right to vote for men and women serving overseas in the armed forces or living abroad is of the highest importance. In places with runoff elections, including deployed military and other overseas voters means sending and receiving ballots multiple times: once for the first election and then again for the second. However, international mail takes time, and so military and overseas voters may not have time to receive, complete, and return a runoff ballot before the day of the election, which is why federal law requires at least 45 days between rounds of voting in federal elections. Still, many state and local runoff elections occur as little as one week after the first round, effectively disenfranchising overseas and military voters.
We’ve already seen HB 553 and HB 932 fail in the House of Delegates. I would encourage every Republican in the Commonwealth to contact their State Senator and State Delegate and ask them to support RCV/IRV for any locality looking to implement it; as well as encouraging them to amend the Virginia State Constitution to include provisions for RCV/IRV for statewide elections.
No single change to our voting system would have a more profound and positive impact on our politics than Ranked Choice Voting. I know that most of the people in power will oppose this, but that is all the more reason for us to demand they accept and support it.
The Virginia Republican Party can institute RCV for their any time they like. As recent SCOTUS decisions have made abundantly clear, the political parties are private organizations. Changing the VA Constitution to require the use of RCV would mean that primaries are no longer required. All we need is one general election.
Incidentally, the US Congress can mandate RCV by way of Article I Section 4 Clause 1. However, I would much rather see the following Amendment get approved instead:
It certainly seems like a great solution to the unfortunate situation we now have in the VA Senate race where more voters preferred other candidates than the one who ends up winning with only a plurality of votes, rather than a majority. Run-off elections are costly and ranking choices the first time around seems to be a nearly perfect solution!
Still, ‘open primaries’, where anyone can vote without any claim of allegiance or interest in the party, are still undesirable while conventions, although solving that issue, are limiting and exclusive to those party faithful who can afford the cost, time and physical demands of attending the event.
Ranked voting in a closed primary would seem to be the optimum vehicle for selecting the best candidates!
The job of the party is to nominate and support the best qualified nominee that closest adheres to our values.
RCV is just another way to enable separatists to not have to support the party they don’t like.
Maybe if the Libertarians did this the voters would flock to their banner.
I completely agree.
They used to have that in Virginia. Then someone came up with the open primary.
Incumbent protection act removes need for a party.
Which is why no one bothers showing up anymore.
I’m totally on board. However, I think it would aid discussion if you were to lay out the arguments against RC voting, so that we can all be prepared to have those discussions. That is, if there have been arguments against RCV offered yet.
I’ll research them and write about them ASAP.
First, thank you so much for helping to educate the public on this important idea to improve how we elect leaders.
Here are some arguments *against* RCV that were recently submitted to the Nashville city council by a former San Jose election commissioner:
From: Terry Reilly [[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, August 06, 2018 10:44 AM
To: Terrence W. Reilly
Subject: “Instant Runoff Voting” Also Known as “Ranked Choice Voting” info
Special elections can be expensive, but Instant Runoff Voting is not the answer. Instant Runoff Voting is also known as Ranked choice voting. A few cities have experimented with it, and many now have “buyers remorse”. Others have rejected IRV/RCV or repealed int after it caused a great deal of confusion and disenfranchisement.
You should know, that a study published in 2017 by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that voting by mail increased turnout in local special elections by an average of 7.6 percentage points. Several states and cities use “all mail ballots” in special elections to reduce costs and increase turnout.
IRV/RCV has many unintended consequences. It has been said “Instant Runoff Voting is like asbestos, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
IRV/RCV lowers turnout and increases spoiled ballots (particularly in traditionally disenfranchised communities)
Prof. Jason McDaniel of San Francisco State University, published a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Urban Affairs examining RCV impact of turnout and spoiled ballots:
Changing the electoral system – cost of education:
Because of the increased complexity of IRV/RCV, city have spend huge amount of public money of “education”, trying to teach people how to vote with IRV/RCV, so they can reduce the spoiled ballots.
Case in point, Santa Fe: Santa Fe recently spent $350,000 on RCV education for the Mayor’s race where the winner received ~13,000 votes.
For a comparison, Santa Fe’s population is ~67,947, while Nashville’s is ~684,410, more than 10X the size.
Even with the $350,000 in education, spoiled ballots increased by over 600% in Santa Fe’s IRV/RCV election in 2018, vs. the 2014 traditional election.
In 2014, there were 136 spoiled ballot, in 2018 there were 901. Here’s information from Santa Fe’s City Clerk and Elections Department:
High spoiled ballot rates in minority, low income, lower education, english as second language is well documented.
Lawrence R. Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School, has this too say about the disenfranchisement:
In looking at the actual data from the Minneapolis City Clerk, you can identify districts and precinct’s spoiled ballot rate and compare.
Because of the unintended problems, many cities that experimented with Instant Runoff Voting/Ranked Choice Voting have repealed it, while others have rejected it outright. Burlington VT, Aspen CO, Pierce County WA, Cary NC, Ann Arbor MI, Fort Collins CO, Santa Clara CA, Duluth MN are just a few that have repealed or rejected IRV/RCV.
Recently, the NAACP of Tenn studied the effects of IRV/RCV and voted against supporting it.
Vignesh Ganapathy, Director of Policy and the Racial Justice Project at ACLU recently testified:
“Ranked choice ballots have suppressed voter turnout, especially among those segments of the electorate that are already least likely to participate. Ranked choice voting (RCV) has resulted in decreased turnouts up to 8% in non-presidential elections. Low-propensity voters are already less likely to participate in elections that do not coincide with congressional or presidential races. By adding additional steps to voting, RCV exacerbates this tendency, making it less likely that new and more casual voters will enter into the process. Moreover, RCV exacerbates economic and racial disparities in voting. Voting errors and spoiled ballots occur far more often. In Minneapolis, for example, nearly 10% of ranked choice ballots were not counted, most of these in low-income communities of color. Other municipalities have seen similar effects.”
In addition, while it has been reported in the press and repeated by supporters, IRV/RCV does not guarantee a winner with Majority Support. More often, more people have voted against the winner that for them, just like plurality. For your election, you currently require winner with a majority of the vote. If you require a winner how receives “a majority of votes cast for that office”, IRV/RCV will not achieve that. Santa Fe proposed having ANOTHER runoff, if IRV/RCV does not provide a winner with a “majority of votes cast”:
Some would say that I’m anti-IRV/RCV, but nothing could be further from the truth. IRV/RCV is just not my first choice in election systems. It’s my third choice.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about the use and history of IRV/RCV.
And here is a rebuttal to Terry Reilly’s arguments, prepared by Drew Penrose at FairVote:
* * * TR: A few cities have experimented with it, and many now have ‘buyers remorse’. Others have rejected IRV/RCV or repealed int after it caused a great deal of confusion and disenfranchisement. * * *
Ranked choice voting is used by over a million voters in the United States and many more internationally. It has a long history stretching back over 100 years. Presently, it is in use in 11 cities and one state (Maine), with an additional five adoptions with upcoming implementations in 2019-2021. Polling of voters in places with RCV routinely finds majority support for continuing to use RCV in their communities. For instance, exit polling of Santa Fe’s first RCV election found that over 70 percent supported the use of RCV in their city’s future elections.
* * * TR: IRV/RCV lowers turnout and increases spoiled ballots … Prof. Jason McDaniel … published a peer-reviewed paper … examining RCV impact of turnout and spoiled ballots. * * *
Professor McDaniel’s paper is out of step with other academic literature on the topic, and it suffers from severe methodological flaws. He narrowed his data to mayoral elections in San Francisco, which (at the time of his report’s publication) included only a single competitive RCV election. He ignored all city council elections in San Francisco and all RCV elections outside of San Francisco, and he did not adequately control for competition. The one RCV mayoral election in San Francisco since McDaniel’s study was published resulted in the election of the city’s first African American woman as mayor. A more detailed study on San Francisco’s use of RCV finds that voters are using the system well. The RCV elections taking place in 2017 and 2018 all had high turnout. A peer-reviewed article published in Electoral Studies in 2018 finds that RCV has increased representation of women and people of color in US elections: “For women and minority women, in particular, [RCV] appears to have improved descriptive representation, with more female and female minority candidates winning elective office.” Since adopting RCV, four cities in the California Bay Area have seen significant increases in election rates of people of color.
* * * TR: Because of the increased complexity of IRV/RCV, city have spend huge amount of public money of ‘education’, trying to teach people how to vote with IRV/RCV, so they can reduce the spoiled ballots. * * *
Dedicating resources to voter education is a good idea under any election method, but it is not a necessary expense for RCV in particular. Reilly claims that Santa Fe spent $350,000 on voter education, and that Nashville has 10 times its population, implying that Nashville will need to spend even more. However, also in 2018, Maine implemented RCV for its statewide primary elections and budgeted no money at all for voter education. Maine has a population of roughly 1.3 million, about twice the population of Nashville. Voters used the ballot well in Maine, and in the very same election where they used the ranked ballot for the first time, they also voted to keep RCV with over 54 percent voting in favor.
* * * TR: Even with the $350,000 in education, spoiled ballots increased by over 600% in Santa Fe’s IRV/RCV election in 2018, vs. the 2014 traditional election. * * *
Reilly claims there were 901 “spoiled” ballots in Santa Fe’s first RCV election. However, only 52 total ballots (about a quarter of one percent) were invalidated due to voter error (a number consistent with common error rates in vote-for-one elections). That is because the 901 “spoiled” ballots are all ballots that a voter chose to return in order to ask for a new ballot, which they then cast and had counted. The increase is likely due to New Mexico adopting new voting equipment software in 2018 which provided greater error notification than those used in 2014. Regardless, it is entirely possible that every single one of those 901 voters cast a valid ballot that was counted as they intended. In fact, exit polling of Santa Fe voters showed that voters overwhelmingly understood how to rank their choices, they felt confident that their votes were counted as cast, and they appreciated having the power to rank their choices.
* * * TR: “Because of the unintended problems, many cities that experimented with Instant Runoff Voting/Ranked Choice Voting have repealed it, while others have rejected it outright. * * *
RCV is in use in 11 cities and one state, with an additional five adoptions awaiting implementation, and only four cities have repealed it. The last repeal was in 2010. All repeals were for reasons specific to their own place and time. For instance, Reilly’s inclusion of Ann Arbor as an example of “buyer’s response” is particularly troubling, given that the city repealed RCV in 1976 immediately following the victory of the city’s first African American mayor under the system.
* * * TR: [Claim that the Director of Policy and the Racial Justice Project at ACLU testified that RCV has various problems] * * *
Reilly here strips the testimony of the policy director of the ACLU of Kansas of all context in order to make it seem as if the ACLU nationally has a position against RCV. Reilly also spread this claim in Maine, leading the ACLU of Maine issuing a press release calling the claims “misleading and deceptive,” while clarifying that “The ACLU has not opposed Ranked Choice Voting in Maine or elsewhere.” The statements of Vignesh Ganapathy were from a neutral position of the ACLU of Kansas only, responding to a particular political context.
* * * TR: “IRV/RCV does not guarantee a winner with Majority Support. * * *
This is a tired and misleading semantic argument, essentially nitpicking a particular definition of “majority.” In fact, RCV does guarantee the winner will have majority support of the last round of counting, which excludes only those votes that did not rank either of the final two candidates. This is analogous to how two-round runoff elections guarantee the winner will have majority support of those who show up to vote in the runoff election. In either case, the winner may not always have more than half of the total votes cast in the first round. In fact, when compared apples to apples in this way, RCV does a much better job of promoting majority support than two-round runoff elections do, because runoff elections generally attract very few voters.