Have you ever voted in a municipal election where there were more than ten candidates?
By Denise Robb
Maybe you liked three or four of them, but you could only choose one. You pick a favorite, and the favorite does not do well. About six weeks later, you receive notice that it is time to vote in the runoff even though your candidate did not make it to the top two. You stay home, as do most voters so that turnout is less than 10%.
This is a real scenario that happens frequently in Los Angeles; in May 2007, only 7% chose the LAUSD and LACCD candidates. For precisely this reason and a few others, many cities have changed their voting system by adopting Ranked Choice Voting (“RCV”). San Francisco and many other cities use Ranked Choice Voting because it saves money by eliminating the runoff, ballots do not need to be re-printed and voters get multiple choices.
What is Ranked Choice Voting?
If there are more than two candidates, each voter makes a first choice, a second choice, a third choice and so on. The voter could make just one choice, but each voter has the option to rank all of the candidates. After the first choices of all voters are totaled, if your first choice did not get a majority, you are still in the game. Your second choice now is tallied, and so on until some candidate has reached the 50% plus one threshold.
RCV is used in Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the mayoral race in London and even for the Oscars. As of 2019, seven states have cities that have implemented RCV. Three more states have adopted it but not yet used it. In 2016, Maine approved ranked choice voting for electing candidates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, governor, state senators and state representatives. Maine may become the first state to use RCV to elect the President in 2020.
The Democratic Parties in Iowa, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska, Kansas and Wyoming have approved RCV for use in the presidential primaries in 2020. The Democratic Party is fielding over 20 candidates in 2020, so this may be particularly useful. In 2016, Donald Trump won the primaries in some states with less than 35% of the vote.
Benefits of RCV
RCV gives voters more choice, ensures that the candidate is elected with over a 50% vote total, eliminates a costly primary and tends to produce a more positive type of campaign style. Candidates are no longer asking you to vote yes for them and no for their opponents. Under RCV they will encourage you to at least rank them second and only do damage to themselves by attacking the others. Lastly, the spoiler effect that caused the Democratic Party to blame Ralph Nader for the election of George Bush, is eliminated. Voters can freely vote for the third party or a lesser known candidate, and then assuredly choose their next favorite candidate rather than helping to elect their least favorite.
In late 2019, New York City will be voting on whether or not to adopt the RCV system. Los Angeles may wish to follow its lead because RCV gives voters more options and a chance to vote for a favored underdog, save taxpayers a lot of money and limit attacks on candidates by opponents.
> Click for a list of where RCV is used.
Denise Robb wrote her doctoral dissertation on Ranked Choice Voting.
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