Monday, Oct. 3, 2022 | 2 a.m.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) is having its biggest year ever. It’s growing in red, blue and purple states. It’s a nonpartisan reform that gives voters more choice and more voice and gives candidates incentives to run better campaigns. In short, it’s a better way to vote.
That’s why RCV is recommended by parliamentary guides like Robert’s Rules of Order and used for countless nongovernmental elections, from Canada’s largest conservative party in leadership elections to Best Picture at the Oscars. Students elect leaders with RCV at nearly 100 American colleges, reflecting its popularity with young voters.
Here’s how RCV works: Instead of picking just one candidate, voters are allowed to rank them — first, second, third and so on. It’s simple — rank candidates in order of true preference, just as we typically do in our heads when making choices. The tallying logic is simple, too. Your vote will count for your next-ranked choice if your first choice can’t win.
It’s sometimes known as an “instant runoff,” because it does the same thing as runoffs. That is, eliminate the last-place candidates and find a majority winner. But instead of taxpayers picking up the bill for two elections and the huge candidate spending we saw in Georgia’s 2021 Senate runoffs, there’s just one ballot and faster results.
Alaska now uses RCV for all statewide and federal general elections — including August’s special House election in which Mary Peltola won a high-turnout race to complete the term of the late congressman Don Young. The first Alaska native in Congress, Peltola will serve until January.
As it grows, RCV is getting more scrutiny. Unfortunately, much coverage simplistically focuses on the partisan “horse race.” For example, does the one data point of Peltola’s win in Alaska mean RCV is bad for Republicans?
RCV, in fact, doesn’t favor any party. Without RCV, Peltola would have won easily over two Republicans who split the vote. RCV allowed a straight-up comparison between Peltola and opponent Sarah Palin, and Peltola won 51% to 49%.
What RCV does do: It allows voters to more fully express their will and ensure that candidates with the broadest and deepest support win elections. We should seek these values in all our elections, regardless of party.
Everywhere RCV is used, voters like and understand it — including the 85% of Alaska voters who found it “simple” and 88% of Utah voters (where RCV is used in 23 cities) who said they’re “satisfied” with RCV.A study of GOP primaries with RCV in Virginia this spring found it resulted in nominees better positioned to bring the party together.
For voters, RCV minimizes strategic voting. If, for example, you’re an Alaska voter whose main focus is electing a Republican, there’s no need to worry about whether Republicans Nick Begich and Palin are “splitting” votes or playing “spoiler.”
Just rank your favorite Republican first and the other second — that’s how Palin closed the gap with Peltola once Begich was eliminated and his voters’ second choices were counted. Of course, the same goes if you’re a more liberal voter deciding between two Democratic candidates.
RCV also rewards candidates who run more issue-oriented, civil campaigns. Instead of tearing down their opponents, candidates seek to earn second- and third-choice rankings from backers of other candidates. Peltola successfully picked up the second-choice support of nearly a third of Begich’s voters.
RCV winners have greater buy-in and support from the electorate. In fact, winners in RCV elections tend to be ranked first, second or third by more than 70% of voters.
These benefits — more positive campaigns and voter buy-in — are major reasons Virginia Republicans have adopted RCV to improve their primary elections, including in three congressional primaries this spring and in 2021 to nominate now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the first Republican to win statewide office since 2009.
In Maine, voters this November will also use RCV for congressional elections — including in the 2nd District, one of a few toss-up seats that could decide which party controls the House come January. In Nevada and a record nine cities and counties, voters will decide whether they want to use RCV in future elections.
Overall, RCV is simple and popular with voters and leads to better and more representative candidates and winners. It’s no experiment — now in 55 cities, counties and states, it’s worked time and again. There are sensible reasons that ranked-choice voting may soon be coming to your state and local elections.
Rob Richie is president and CEO of FairVote, a nonpartisan organization seeking better elections. Stan Lockhart, a former chair of the Utah Republican Party, heads Utah RCV. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.