New York Times columnist, David Brooks, has described ranked choice voting as "one reform to save America". That might sound like an exaggeration. It is not. No other single reform will do as much to improve the quality of our elections and make our government more genuinely democratic.
The benefits of ranked-choice voting (see below) and other forms of proportional representation are not theoretical, they are based on observable differences between our "winner-take-all" system and more genuinely democratic systems that have been in place in more and more countries around the world dating back to 1899. (Over 94 countries now have some form of proportional representation.)
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to vote for more than one candidate for an executive office (governor, lieutenant governor, etc.) or for seats in a legislature, ranking their choices in order of preference. It ensures that winning candidates have the support of a majority of the voters (at some level of preference).
Using ranked choice voting with multi-member districts to elect members of a legislative body results in proportional representation – with political parties holding a percentage of the seats in a legislature equal to the percentage of the votes candidates from each party receive in an election.
(See below for an explanation of how ranked choice votes are tabulated.)
An example of what a presidential RCV ballot would look like. Based on actual candidates in 2020.
Ranked choice voting in elections for offices where there can only be a single winner (president, governor, etc.) is GOOD. It insures that the winner will have the support of a majority of the voters (at some level of preference), gives voters more viable choices, allows voters to vote for their true preference as their first choice without worrying about the "spoiler effect", and minimizes negative campaigning.
Ranked choice voting with multiple member districts for Congress and state legislatures is even BETTER, giving voters more candidates from which to choose; minimizing or eliminating "wasted votes" by making it likely that most, and perhaps all, voters have cast a vote for one or more winning candidates (at some level of preference), and resulting in a Congress and state legislatures that more accurately reflect the will of the people.
Research has shown that the effects of gerrymandering are neutralized when voters elect five or more candidates from each district (or at-large). Increasing the number of members elected from a district will also increase the chances that voters who support minor parties and independent voters will be represented,
In stark contrast with our present system where very few elections are competitive, with multiple member districts all elections are competitive and every vote matters.
Ranked choice voting with multiple-member districts will be a major improvement in our electoral system. If we want to take reform one step further, the best means of electing a Congress that fully realizes President Adams ideal "Representative Assembly" is to allow every voter who is governed by the laws passed by Congress to select any member of both the House of Representatives and the Senate as their representative and then give members of each chamber weighted votes based on the number of voters who have selected them as their representative. This will ensure that every voter is represented by a representative and two senators who share their values, views, and opinions.
Putting such a system in place can most easily be accomplished within a system of ranked choice voting, with multiple-member congressional districts, that also allows voters to cast write-in votes for any candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives, including candidates from other states and congressional districts, among their ranked preferences.
Write-in votes for candidates in states or districts other than a voter’s own state or district would not be counted for purposes of deciding which candidates are elected from those states or districts. Only the votes of voters residing within a state or congressional district would be counted to determine the winners of elections to the House and Senate from each state and district. In the event that a candidate from another state or district does not win election, a voter’s lower ranked choices would be utilized to determine which senator or representative will represent that voter.
Write-in votes from voters in other states and congressional districts would be then be added to the in-state and in-district vote totals of winning candidates and every member of the House and Senate would be given a weighted vote on all matters that come to a vote within each chamber based on the cumulative number of voters they represent.
Note: In fairly large state legislatures, with ten or twenty members being elected from each district, giving voters the option of voting for candidates from other districts is less important.
The combination of "winner-take-all" elections and single-member districts for Congress and state legislatures violates the primary principle of representative democracy - that all voters should be represented and that like-minded groups of voters should be represented in proportion to their proportion within the electorate.
Within our present system, Republican voters residing in districts controlled by the Democratic Party are not represented. Democratic voters living in districts controlled by the Republican Party are not represented. And members of minor parties and independent voters are rarely represented regardless of where they live. With RCV and multiple-member districts, all voters are represented.
“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) 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.
In a “winner-take-all” system with single member districts, voting for a third 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 a minor party or independent candidate without worrying about the “spoiler effect” by choosing one or more major party candidates as a lesser preference.
Candidates competing on the basis of who best represents a party would shift the focus to party platforms and the issues addressed in them. Allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference would temper intra-party tensions that can arise during the head-to-head competition typical of contested primaries, helps unify a party, and makes it considerably more likely that parties with the most seats in a legislature will be able to pass the legislation called for in their party platform and make good on campaign promises.
Most voters are tired of attack ads and mud-slinging. 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, candidates attacking opponents risks alienating voters who might otherwise cast a vote for them as an alternate choice.
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 Democratic dominance in urban areas and Republican dominance in rural areas.
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 and every vote counts.
In the initial round of tabulation, only first choice votes are counted. If a candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, that candidate is elected.
If no candidate receives a majority of 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 process of tabulating votes for legislatures with multiple-member districts is a bit more complicated, and there are several different formulas that can be employed. One of the simplest is the "Representation for All" method, which involves the same basic process as described above for single-winner elections, except the process of elimination ends when the number of "continuing candidates is equal to the number of members to be elected. Remaining ranked choice votes from any active ballots are then distributed among the candidates who were elected.
This bill requires (1) that ranked choice voting (a system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference) be used for all elections for Members of the House of Representatives, (2) that states entitled to six or more Representatives establish districts such that three to five Representatives are elected from each district, and (3) that states entitled to fewer than six Representatives elect all Representatives on an at-large basis.
The bill also requires that congressional redistricting be conducted in accordance with a plan developed by (1) a state-established independent commission; or (2) if such a commission fails to enact a plan, a three-judge panel from a U.S. District Court.
The Ranked Choice Voting Act would establish the use of ranked choice voting in elections for the offices of both Senator and Representative in Congress. (The Fair Representation Act covers only the election of members of the House of Representatives.) The Ranked Choice Voting Act does not provide for multiple-member districts or at-large elections for the U. S. House of Representatives. (The Fair Representation Act does.)
Passing both acts would be possible and helpful - including senators in ranked choice voting and providing for multiple-member districts and at-large elections for the U. S. House of Representatives.