Ranked choice voting (RCV), sometimes referred to as 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!
Wouldn't you rather go to the polls once every election?
Many local offices are elected in two rounds of elections: a general election followed by a runoff if no candidate has a majority. Holding a second election for the runoff incurs additional cost while often suffering from very weak and unrepresentative turnout. Ranked choice voting solves both of these problems by collecting the votes needed for an instant runoff election with only one trip to the polls.
RCV also saves money for candidates, for whom the cost of a runoff campaign could be an insurmountable obstacle.
Across industries we expect and enforce healthy competition because competition encourages:
- Lower prices.
Yet in our public politics we endure a duopoly. Our two major political parties sometimes actively discourage third-party candidates similar to them and sometimes actively encourage third-party candidates similar to their opponent because of the potential effect of vote splitting. This is sometimes referred to as the “spoiler effect”.
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, rather than feeling they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Voting is more satisfying if all voters can express their true preference and not feel pressured to choose between what they think is the lesser of two evils.
More candidates competing in elections 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 can restore faith that our votes matter.
In 2020, Texas placed 44th among the states in voter turnout since 40% 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.
More Issue-Focused, Less Negative Campaigning
In traditional elections, candidates believe they benefit from 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
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, these voters only have to mail their ballots once.
Minimizes Strategic Voting
Voters should be able to vote for candidates they support, not just vote against candidates they oppose most. In elections without RCV, voters may feel that they need to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” if their favorite candidate is less likely to win. This is sometimes referred to as avoiding a "wasted" vote.
With RCV, voters can honestly rank candidates in order of choice. Voters know that if their first choice doesn’t win, their vote automatically counts for their next choice instead. This frees voters from worrying about how others will vote and which candidates are more or less likely to win.
Ensures Votes Count If People Vote Early or By Mail
With RCV, even if some candidates drop out before election day every voter's choice can count.
Mitigates Impact of Money in Politics
Too often, candidates win by barraging opponents with expensive, negative ads. In ranked choice voting elections, however, candidates who were outspent have run and won by building grassroots outreach networks. Such positive and inclusive strategies cost far less than polarizing radio and television campaigns.
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. In single-winner races, the research is not clear but issues of special interest to historically under-represented groups like racial and ethnic minorities and women are more likely to be heard and adopted by other candidates. In the first use of RCV by New York City in 2021, the enthusiasm for RCV and perceived ease of use was comparable across ethnic groups.