Ranked choice voting is gaining steam across the nation
Ten ballot measures to enact RCV this Nov (most ever); RCV will be used in Alaska, Maine and 11 counties and cities
The original version of this article was published by The Fulcrum.
Ranked choice voting continues to make impressive gains across the United States.
This month was a big one for ranked choice voting in Alaska, as the state used RCV for the first time on August 16. In an election to fill a U.S. House vacancy, Democrat Mary Peltola led the field with 39 percent of first choices, with Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich splitting the remaining 60 percent of the votes cast. The RCV tally will be run on August 31 to determine the winner.
RCV is now improving elections in 55 cities, states and counties across the nation. Alaska, as well as Maine, uses RCV for all presidential and congressional elections. But the Last Frontier’s experience has unique elements. It's the first state to merge a nonpartisan primary with RCV. And unlike California and Washington, which advance the top two candidates from the primary to a November general election, Alaska advances the top four candidates. Voters then use RCV to elect the candidate with the greatest support.
That means voters will almost always have a competitive general election – and can have more than one candidate of the same party appearing in November, as will happen in every statewide race in Alaska this year. US Senator Lisa Murkowski advanced in her reelection race, but so did her fellow Republicans Kelly Tshibaka and Buzz Kelley. Because of its enormous size and unusually high number of active-duty military voters and rural citizens living in barely accessible communities, officials allow 15 days for the high number of mail-in ballots to reach election offices, and they don’t release any mail-in ballot results until the end of that period. That’s long been true for non-RCV races, and now the RCV races as well. So the RCV tally to determine the U.S. House winner will not be conducted until August 31.
Alaska’s move to RCV is another exciting indicator of the success of our national movement. FairVote has advocated for RCV and related reforms for 30 years, and it’s never had as much momentum as it does now. While Alaskans are waiting for their RCV results, ranked choice voting is advancing rapidly in a number of other places around the country.
Ten November RCV ballot measures
Voters in Nevada and at least nine cities and counties will vote on whether to use or expand ranked choice voting for their elections. That’s the most RCV measures ever in one year. There are many reasons that states and cities want to adopt RCV. Instead of picking just one candidate, you get to rank as many candidates as you want in order of your choice: first, second, third and so on. If your first-choice candidate is in last place, your vote counts for your highest-ranked candidate who can win. RCV makes races with more than two candidates better for voters and candidates alike, by removing the fear that like-minded candidates will “split the vote.”
With so many positives to recommend it, nearly all of this year’s RCV reform efforts have been put on the ballot by a city council or charter commission that decided RCV was best for their community. These include:
The transformative measure proposed in Portland, Ore. which, if passed, will implement the proportional form of RCV to elect a larger, more representative council – with Portland, Maine voting whether to allow proportional RCV as well.
Several measures will eliminate low-turnout, wasteful nonpartisan primaries. That includes Oregon’s largest county of Multnomah, neighboring Clark County, Wash., and Evanston, Ill. The mayor of Evanston explained how RCV could offer a faster, cheaper way to find a majority winner.
Nevada’s proposed constitutional amendment would combine RCV with primary reform, utilizing a “top five” primary system similar to Alaska’s “top four” combined with RCV.
In Fort Collins, Colo., RCV could improve a current voting system where candidates with unrepresentative views were elected due to the majority splitting the vote.
RCV as a norm would change incentives for candidates – encouraging them to seek areas of agreement because they’ll want to be voters’ second or third choices if not their first.
A number of RCV elections in November
This fall, ranked choice voting will be used in a number of government elections. Besides the recent special election, Alaska also will hold its regularly scheduled races for governor, senator, the House, and the Legislature, all them elected by RCV. Unlike the special election, which only includes three candidates after a late withdrawal, these races typically will have four candidates and will allow a write-in.
RCV will also be used in one of the nation’s few tossup congressional districts. Maine’s 2nd district offers a rematch of a 2018 race among Democratic incumbent Jared Golden, former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and independent Tiffany Bond. In 2018, Golden won by earning the lion’s share of second-choice support from independent voters; the race may come down to whether Poliquin can change his 2018 approach.
We’ll also see RCV being used in 11 counties and cities, including three first-time uses in California.
RCV is improving elections across the map. Policymakers and reformers can learn more about RCV at FairVote and how to connect with community reformers at FairVote Action. This fall will be an exciting time for ranked choice voting as a reform, and for the growing movement of supporters.
Rob Richie @Rob_Richie
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