A Better Voting System?

“A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.”  — Alexander Hamilton

There have been a lot of articles and Facebook posts lately about the U.S. Electoral College and whether or not it should be altered or eliminated altogether. I might weigh in on that some other time, but not this week. Instead, what I want to bring to your attention is something called “ranked choice voting” (RCV) (aka “alternative vote” or “instant-runoff vote”). I haven’t analyzed it in detail, but I really do like what I have read & heard.

maine-rcv-sample-ballot-image_origI think I originally heard about RCV awhile ago but never looked into it and soon forgot. What put it on my radar recently was this article: “Maine became the first state in the country Tuesday to pass ranked choice voting”. (There are at least 10 American cities that already use this method, as do some European countries.) As per The Boston Globe‘s Nik DeCosta-Klipa, here’s how it works:

“In a ranked choice vote system, rather than simply voting for one candidate, voters rank their candidates by preference — first, second, third, and so on.

Then, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote after the first choices are counted, the candidate with the least first-choice rankings is eliminated, and the voters who preferred the last place finisher have their vote reallocated according to their next choice. The votes are then recounted and the process is repeated until one candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold.”

I am very intrigued by this method, especially given all of the frustration we had this past election season, arguing and struggling over who (if anyone) we could in good conscience vote for. Disadvantages of the current system became all too apparent. The advantages of ranked choice voting? In short, it…

1) “… increases the diversity of views available for voters to consider by allowing candidates from outside the two major parties to compete.” (Of course, many places allow for more than two parties to compete, but this system makes it easier for them to stay in the running.)

2) “… resolves the conundrum of strategic voting, in which residents worry that their ballot may have a ‘spoiler effect’ if they cast it for a third-party candidate.”

3) “… results in more civil campaigns,… disincentiv[izing] negative attacks that could alienate voters and forces candidates to broaden their appeal.”

Those are some great benefits over the current, ‘first past the post’ method that dominates the landscape, as it were. Unfortunately, the problem of gerrymandering still exists. Also, there is still the question of whether or not to retain the Electoral College for use in the national general election. In the meantime, though, I would be in favor of using RCV in more local and state elections and maybe the national primaries (for each party).

One variation on RCV that I thought of — which probably exists somewhere and has an official name — would be to use a form of weighted voting. First, though, officials would probably need to limit the number of candidates on the ballot to, maybe, five. Voters would still rank the candidates in order of their individual preference. But, rather than tallying up to see if anyone reached a majority and then shifting votes when necessary, the votes would be weighted — 1st choice gets 5 points, 2nd choice gets 4, 3rd choice gets 3, 4th choice gets 2, 5th choice gets 1. The points would then be added up for each candidate, and the one with the most points wins. I just haven’t figured out what to do in case of a tie. (Separate runoff vote?)

If you’re interested, the primary source of info about ranked choice voting in the U.S. appears to be the folks at FairVote. Also, a guy named C.G.P. Grey has a series of short vids that help explain RVC and a couple other voting systems and related concepts, which are also worth considering. (For example, the MMP and STV methods sound good for things like legislatures, city councils, and other bodies where a voting district is looking for proportional representation.) You can check them all out at his blog or look for them on YouTube. Here’s the one specifically on RVC:


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