The title of the opinion piece from which this quote is taken was “One Reform to Save America”. There is a single reform that will “head off” the “nightmare” we are experiencing politically, but it is not ranked choice voting in multimember districts, it is Pure Democracy Amendments. The next best choice with regard to a reform that would save America would be implementing systems of proxies for citizens that would ensure equal representation for all citizens in Congress and state legislatures.
Fortunately, we don't have to choose "just one structural reform”. Ranked choice voting won't "save" America, in and of itself, but it will significantly improve our elections. The benefits of ranked choice voting are listed and discussed below.
Ranked choice voting is a method of voting that allows voters to cast votes for more than one candidate, ranking their choices in order of preference. When used in an election where there is a single winner (an executive office, such as president, governor, lieutenant governor, et cetera; or for seats in a legislature with single-member districts) the tabulation method for ranked choice voting ensures that winning candidates have the support of a majority of the voters (at some level of preference) instead of just a plurality (the most votes, even if that is less than a majority). This is in harmony with the primary principle of democracy – majority rule.
Ranked choice voting is even more powerful when combined with multiple member districts for electing members of a legislature. It results in a form of proportional representation – with political parties or other collections of like-minded voters holding a percentage of the seats in a legislature equal to the percentage of the votes the top candidates from each party receive in an election. Legislatures with proportional representation more accurately reflect the will of the people – another primary principle of democracy.
Ranked choice voting in single-winner elections:
Ensures that winning candidates have the support of a majority of the voters (at some level of preference. Majority rule is the essential element of democracy. In elections with a plurality winner, the candidate with the most votes (a “plurality”) wins. In elections with more than two candidates, the more choices voters have (as a result of more candidates being on the ballot) the smaller the percentage of the votes needed to win. If there are three candidates to choose from and the votes are evenly split, a candidate can win with as little as 34% of the votes cast. With five candidates on the ballot, a candidate can win with as little as 11% of the votes cast. This can be a major problem when several candidates have similar views on the issues and divide up the votes of like-minded voters. For example, let’s say that a public option for health care and a federal job guarantee are supported by two-thirds of the voters in a state or district and there are four candidates on the ballot. If three of the candidates support a public option for health care and a federal job guarantee, they will split the votes of like-minded voters between them – averaging just over 22% of the votes cast. The candidate who is out of step with two-thirds of the voters may win with 33% of the vote.
This is a sample ranked choice ballot (using candidates from the 2020 presidential election).
Gives voters more choices. With ranked choice voting you can vote for all of the candidates you truly prefer, in order of preference, including minor party or independent candidates, without worrying about the “spoiler effect” or wasting your vote, as long as you choose one of the major party candidates among your lesser preferences.
Eliminates concerns about the “spoiler effect” and “wasted votes”. In a “winner-take-all” system with plurality winners, and with major party candidates typically having a significant better chance of winning than minor party or independent candidates, voting for a minor party or independent candidate can make it more likely that the major party candidate you least support may win over a major party candidate who would be your preferred choice between the two major party candidates. With ranked choice voting, you can vote for the candidates you truly support, in order of preference, knowing that, as long as you include the major party candidate you prefer to the other major party candidate somewhere among your choices, you will not help the major party candidate you oppose and your vote will not be “wasted” by voting for a candidate you truly prefer, but who might not have as good a chance of winning.
Results in less negative campaigning. Most voters are tired of, and turned off by, attack ads and mudslinging. With ranked choice voting, candidates do best when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents. While candidates must still differentiate themselves to earn first choice support, attacking other candidates can alienate voters who might otherwise cast a vote for a candidate as an alternate choice. And having more than one opponent makes it much more difficult to win by attacking other candidates.
Significantly increases rates of voter participation. It should not be surprising that more voters vote in countries with some form of proportional representation experience. When voters feel that their vote matters, they are more likely to vote.
Ranked choice voting combined with multiple-member districts:
Neutralizes or eliminates gerrymandering. Research has shown that the effects of gerrymandering are neutralized in legislatures electing at least five members from each district. With state-wide, at large elections, gerrymandering is eliminated completely. Electing members of a legislative body "at large" or from multi-member districts also neutralizes distortions in representation resulting from the uneven distribution of partisan voters.
Leads to more political parties (and voters) being represented. Increasing the number of members elected from a district also increases the chances that voters who support minor parties and independent candidates will be represented. Experience has demonstrated a strong correlation between the number of candidates elected from a multiple-members district and the number of parties represented in a legislature.
Gives voters even more choices. “Winner-take-all” systems with single member districts are nearly always dominated by two major parties. Countries with some form of proportional representation (like RCV with multimember districts) nearly always have more than two viable political parties. With more candidates running, both within parties and from different parties, RCV gives voters a much broader range of choices. No more "lesser-of-two-evils" elections.
Results in all races being competitive and makes every vote matter. The combined effects of gerrymandering, distortions in representation resulting from uneven partisan distribution, and the advantages of incumbency make most districts "safe" for one of the major parties or the other. The fact that a challenger has almost no chance of winning keeps many potential candidates from running and makes it extremely difficult for those who do run to raise the money and recruit the volunteers necessary to run a viable campaign. With RCV in multi-member districts, every election is competitive. Every vote matters.
The benefits of ranked choice voting are not theoretical, they are based on observable differences between our "winner-take-all" system with single-member districts and more genuinely democratic systems that have been in place in more and more countries around the world dating back to 1899. (Over 90 countries have some form of proportional representation.)
Votes are tabulated in rounds. In the initial round of tabulation, only first choice votes are counted. If a candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes, that candidate is elected.
If no candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes of voters who voted for that candidate as their first choice are distributed among the "continuing candidates". If a candidate then has a majority of the "cumulative votes", that candidate is elected.
If no candidate has a majority of the cumulative votes, the continuing candidate with the fewest cumulative votes is eliminated and the highest-ranked remaining choice votes of voters who voted for that candidate are distributed among the continuing candidates.
This process is repeated for as many additional rounds of tabulation as necessary, until a candidate has a majority of the cumulative votes.
The simplest tabulation method for a legislature with multiple-member districts or at-large elections for legislators involves the same basic process as described above for single-winner elections and continuing the process of eliminating the candidate with the fewest cumulative votes until the number of "continuing candidates” is equal to the number of members to be elected to a legislative body.
There are other more complicated processes for tabulating votes for legislatures with multiple-member districts. Some tabulation methods employ formulas involving “election thresholds” and for dealing with “surplus votes”. The end result of any of the commonly accepted methods is that the candidates with the broadest and deepest support are elected.
A lot of people are intimidated by change. And ranked choice voting is a major change in the way we conduct elections. However, voters who are reluctant to embrace new ways of voting do not have to do anything different with ranked choice voting. Simply cast a single vote for a single candidate and stop there. For voters who want more choices, more choices are available. List as many of the candidates as you are allowed in order of preference. (The number of choices voters are allowed to list varies from state to state and city to city.)
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