Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a.k.a. Instant Runoff Voting, brings the election process back to the vibrant dynamic system our Founding Fathers intended. How? Here are all of the ways RCV improves our election process and why Texas should adopt it!
Across industries we expect and enforce healthy competition because competition encourages innovation, customer-focus, and lower prices. Yet in our public politics we endure a duopoly. Our two major political parties consolidate their power in order to overcome the other. To do this, they actively discourage third-party candidates for fear of “vote splitting”. For example, in a traditional election a 3rd party candidate can throw off results. A 3rd party candidate splits votes with the similar major-party candidate and leads to the other major-party candidate winning, as we saw in the 2000 Presidential Election. As a result, voters are pressured to choose one of the major-party candidates instead of voicing their true preference.
RCV allows multiple candidates to compete without fear of splitting the vote. Voters can rank candidates from first choice (even if unlikely to win) to second choice and so on, without fear of spoiling the election. More candidates competing in the general election brings more innovative ideas into public debate and focuses candidates on appealing to voters versus party influencers.
Democracy is strongest when more voices are heard. Ranked Choice Voting improves voter turnout by restoring faith that our votes matter.
Texas places 42nd among the States in terms of voter turnout since half of Texas’ eligible voters stay home, according to the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida. The reasons typically given are either disliking the candidates on the ballot or believing that voting is ineffective. In fact, a Suffolk University study found that “a majority of those non-voters would like to see a third party or multiple parties”, providing more choice and competition.
The competition we do have is sequestered within the party primary process. Today, a vote in a primary often has more impact than a vote in the general election. This pushes candidates to ideological extremes, promotes polarization and gridlock, and reduces the responsiveness of legislators to the general electorate.
In comparison, U.S. cities using ranked choice voting see a dramatic improvement in voter turnout. In Minneapolis, about 43 percent of registered voters voted in 2017, up from 33 percent in 2013, a very strong showing for a local, off-year election, according to FairVote.org. More voters cast ballots in the mayoral race than in any prior mayoral race in Minneapolis for at least the last 20 years.
Opponents of ranked choice voting sometimes attempt to make ranking candidates seem like a daunting task. It is not -- it is empowering and literally as easy as 1-2-3 to cast a smart, effective ballot. Ranking choices is a natural way of understanding our preferences, in and out of politics, and Americans rank things in order all the time.
Wouldn't you rather go to the polls once per election and avoid runoff elections?
Many local offices are elected in two rounds of elections: a general election followed by a runoff if no candidate has a majority. The election often suffers from very weak and unrepresentative turnout, while raising issues of vote splitting in the first round and of the possibility of disenfranchising overseas and military voters. Ranked choice voting can accomplish the benefits of a runoff election structure with only one election, avoiding these issues while saving the jurisdiction the costs of running two elections.
That's why ranked choice voting is often called "instant runoff voting".
More Issue-Focused, Less Negative Campaigning
In traditional 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. Why? Because a candidate would like to be a voter’s second or third choice if not their first choice, giving candidates a reason to be more civil and issue-focused. 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.
Military and Overseas Voters Have Equal Voice as Locals
Military and Overseas voters mail in their ballots in all elections. If a general election is followed by a runoff election, military voters must mail in a new ballot for that runoff election. With RCV, military voters only mail in one ballot with their ranked choices.
Removes the “Spoiler Effect” of Lesser Known Candidates
Voters should be able to vote for the candidate they support. Yet in elections without ranked choice voting, voters may feel that they need to vote for the “lesser of two evils” because their favorite candidate is unlikely to win. This “spoiler effect” discourages voting for lesser known or 3rd party candidates.
In fact there are various strategies used in our two round election system that would be eliminated by RCV, as Professors Bouton and Gratton detail in their 2015 paper. In one, supporters of the front-runner vote for a less preferred candidate so as to influence who will face the front-runner in the runoff election. For additional information, see ‘Tactical voting and strategic nomination’ article in Wikipedia.
With ranked choice voting, you can honestly rank candidates in order of choice without having to worry about how others will vote and who is more or less likely to win.
Mitigates Impact of Money in Politics
Too often, candidates win by barraging opponents with expensive, negative ads, rather than building a positive, grassroots campaign for support. Candidates who have run and won in ranked choice voting elections have been successful because they built grassroots outreach networks. Those more positive and inclusive campaign tactics cost less than polarizing negative radio and television elections, helping to explain why candidates seem able to win ranked choice voting elections even when outspent.
Promotes Reflective Representation
Compared to winner-take-all elections, ranked choice voting in multi-winner contests allows more diverse groups of voters to elect candidates of their choice. This promotes diversity of political viewpoint as well as diversity of candidate background and demographics. Even in single-winner races, ranked choice voting can promote the representation of historically under-represented groups like racial and ethnic minorities and women. A report co-authored by FairVote and the New America Foundation found that racial minority populations prefer ranked choice voting and find it easy to use, and that ranked choice voting increased turnout by 2.7 times in San Francisco.