Thinking Citizen Blog — Ranked Choice Voting Revisited

Thinking Citizen Blog — Sunday is Political Process, Campaign Strategy, and Candidate Selection Day

Today’s Topic — Ranked Choice Voting Revisited — Question #2 on the Massachusetts Ballot

Progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig are for it. But two Democratic governors of California (Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom) vetoed Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) legislation. Would RCV increase or decrease voter participation? Would it benefit or hurt minorities? Is it fundamentally more fair or less fair? But first, how does it work? Voters rank candidates. If one wins a majority, game over. If not, the last-place candidate drops out and their votes are re-distributed to their second choice candidate. This is repeated until a candidate gets a majority. I used to be an RCV fan. Not any more. I’m neutral. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE BIG THREE ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR — no more plurality winners, no spoiler effect, de-polarizing effect

1. Under the current system, a candidate can win an election with a plurality of 20%.

2. Under the current system, spoilers (think Ralph Nader) in 2000 can easily swing elections.

3. RCV would force candidates to appeal to a broader base.

THE CASE AGAINST RANKED CHOICE VOTING — the illusion of a “majority” winner

1. RCV benefits the educated relative to the uneducated. The less educated will enter fewer names when they vote.

2. RCV will disenfranchise those voters — whose votes will not be counted in subsequent rounds. These are called “exhausted ballots.”

3. The winner might be a “majority” winner in name only. The number of discarded ballots could exceed the number of ballots cast for the “majority winner.”

NB: “This is exactly what happened in a 2010 election for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. After multiple rounds of counting, a winner was declared with a faux majority of 4,321 votes — but, by that time, 9,608 ballots had been discarded due to “exhaustion.” “ (Jennifer Braceras, Boston Globe, third link).

PUTTING RCV IN PERSPECTIVE — What about a simple run-off system? Proportional representation? What about civic literacy?

1. Once a fan of RCV, I have changed my mind. The “exhausted voter” problem is a deal killer. Have you ever changed your mind on an issue? What was the trigger?

2. There is a simple, better solution to the plurality winner problem: a simple run-off system.

3. To me, of all political process reforms, the most compelling is proportional representation. Today, one side can get 49% of the vote and zero representation in the legislature. Is that remotely fair?

NB: But to me, there is an issue even more fundamental than proportional representation and that is the lack of rigorous civic literacy training. RCV is a red herring. A distraction. Let’s get serious about democracy. Let’s not continue to coddle the illusion that responsible civic decision-making requires less time and effort than math, writing, music, or athletics. See last link for what a rigorous civic literacy training program would look like. Short story: disciplined debate training, ie. mini-law school.

Ranked-choice voting could guarantee that a candidate is elected by a majority — The Boston Globe

For better elections, give ranked-choice voting a chance — The Boston Globe

Ranked-choice voting threatens to distort election outcomes — The Boston Globe

Why ranked choice is the wrong choice — The Boston Globe

Ranked-choice voting is a better way to vote — The Boston Globe

Lower barriers to voter participation, don’t raise them — The Boston Globe

Brown vetoes bill to broaden ranked-choice voting in California

Push for ranked-choice voting dies in Vermont’s biggest city

Ranked voting

Instant-runoff voting

The Thinking Citizen


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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.