In a time when many feel their access to a true democracy is blocked by gerrymandering, the electoral college, voter fraud, or voter suppression, bipartisan support is brewing around the country for a different approach to elections: Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).
How it works: When completing the ballot the voter ranks all candidates in order of preference. Ballots are counted, and if no one candidate receives more than 50% of the top rank choice, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the ballots are counted again. This process is repeated until two candidates are left, creating an "instant runoff".
Advocates for RCV believe that it gives more power to voters, allowing them to rank their candidates in the order of preference, thus demonstrating the majority support from voters for all candidates. RCV better supports independent or third party candidates in elections, providing more opportunity for success outside of a partisan vote through the ranking system.
For example, if there are two candidates running with similar policy ideology (candidates A and B) instead of splitting the vote from a candidate with opposing views (candidate C), if their combined percentages prevent candidate C from receiving over 50% of the vote then the candidate with the lowest percentage of top ranking votes is eliminated BUT the voters who voted for them are not. Voters still have a voice as their second choice candidate moves into their top spot and is counted in the next round.
Additionally, RCV leads to a reduction in negative campaigning, with some candidates even running on the platform of being the second choice. In creating an instant runoff, RCV also saves public dollars from running an additional runoff election.
Opponents to RCV believe it depresses turn out and confuses voters, while continuing to allow room for error when counting votes.
In 2016, after years of consideration and development, Maine voters passed RCV for all statewide elections. This kicked off the current round of RCV legislation in 2017. States that are considering RCV are applying it to a variety of elections, from municipal to federal, in different ways. To date there are 18 states with bipartisan bills advancing RCV, and many American voters may experience it for this first time in their 2017 or 2018 elections.
The New York legislature is currently considering RCV for New York City’s mayoral, public advocate and comptroller elections through legislative action S3309. In making a change to RCV for these municipal offices, New York City would follow other major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Minneapolis to use RCV for local elections. There is significant support for this change as the 2013 primary runoff for public advocate cost millions of dollars and saw a decreased voter turnout. Had RCV been in effect, an instant runoff would have better represented the majority of voters and saved millions.
HeadCount will keep you updated on changes in your state – but always remember to check out a sample ballot before Election Day to make sure you’re prepared when you get to the polls.