As a candidate running for office, a person never thought to ask to be their second choice. The old saying “there’s no second place in politics” may be changing quickly. Ranked-choice voting is steaming ahead in cities and states with a stalled federal election Bill in Congress. American voters have voiced their concerns with career politicians, voter fraud, Voter Rights laws and a lack of plausible candidates. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) may increase independent and/or third party candidates and higher voter turnout while reducing the “millionaires only” election stigma.
What is Ranked Choice Voting?
RCV creates a panel of candidates that voters choose by ranking them from first to last choice. This allows more candidates to be included unlike the very unpopular primary election where candidates are eliminated. In RCV the process of elimination begins with the lowest votes for a candidate. Those votes are shifted to the next lowest and so forth until only two people remain, the first choice and the second choice. But the second choice candidate continues to collect the votes of those below them. Hence, second choice candidates are taking elections as occurred in Oakland, CA. An example is below with fictitious names and numbers.
Candidates are as shocked as voters when they realize that even as first choice they do not win. Candidates are now starting to ask to be the voters second choice understanding that is the true way to win an election. A strange thing for people who deem themselves confidently the highest qualified, but that may not be how the voters view them anymore.
RCV is a Conduit for Third Parties
American analysts were shocked when Jill Stein took 1% of the vote in the presidential election. Stories circulated, and Twitter got hateful for that tiny margin. No one really brought up Gary Johnson’s 3% vote total. What all of the stories and 140 character messages didn’t include or conclude is that Independent voters have been rising. According to Gallups party affiliation trend analysis, an average of 40% of voters have remained Independent since 2004. These voters are tipping the scales of elections. Campaigns can no longer focus on Super voters, those voters that vote party line in every or nearly every election. The rise of the rest is making American history. RCV could be the ultimate game changer for Independents as they are drawing more voters in local elections across the nation.
You could say Chicago now has a strong third party-the Progressives. They are loosely affiliated with the Democratic party as is their “godfather” Bernie Sanders. Many of these Progressives beat Machine politicians for seats that were unthinkable twenty or even 10 years ago. In March 2018 Chicago Progressives won landslide elections for Congressional, County, and State seats. In many ways they were not the favored choice of voters but alternative choices. They were new faces with new ideas. They were also minority candidates-Latino and Latina. In 2015 there were 19 runoffs in Chicago as well adding to the idea that people are voting for new candidates. In 2015 most of the runoff winners were incumbents but that would have changed with RCV. We would have seen the second place winners win in the automatic runoffs in RCV.
In Oakland, CA candidates used RCV as a “better than two evils” advertising platform. In 2010, Jean Quan aligned herself with the other lower ranked candidates to distance herself from the frontrunner, Don Perata. Even though she was also a highly ranked candidate her ability to “place” herself as anyone else but the frontrunner allowed her to win the election in second place. Candidates can use various strategies to implement change for independent or “dark horse” victories. A plethora of choices intrigues voters that believe they may finally have a choice at the poll.
More Choices Equals More Voices
In both the Presidential election and Chicago’s example, voter turnout was low-55% and below. These numbers may change. Sante Fe, New Mexico began using RCV in their latest local elections. In just one election voter turnout increased 9 points from 29% to 38%. That’s remarkable in an apathetic election system. Even more remarkable as it is a local election which normally receive the lowest voting.
According to studies by FairVote, RCV creates surges of increased voter turnout. Their studies based on several elections found increased voter turnout in Minneapolis 10 points higher with St. Paul’s numbers nearly doubling. These are two large Midwestern cities with a diverse voter base. It goes to show that people want choices when they vote.
Millionaires Not Guaranteed Victory
Millionaires have gained their place on Capitol Hill and across America. The 20th Century was a time of Middle and Lower-class Americans taking seats at the political tables. From Shirley Chisholm to Bill Clinton (his wife was rich, not him), Americans found something about themselves in American politicians. JFK was going to bring Camelot to America, Mayor Daley and his son-both average neighborhood guys- ruled Chicago politics for generations while the Year of the Woman in 1992 made half the nation feel a little bolder about their future. But the 21st Century is definitely a battle of the purse strings. Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Bloomberg in New York, and a slew of millionaires are now pitting their dollars for our representation. It’s a shame that nearly $1 billion was spent on the 2016 presidential election when we could have used that to renovate our parks, clean Flint’s water or stop the opioid crisis. The rise of the rest in RCV elections is more a symbolic representation of America than choices. But as Americans begin taking to the polls in increased numbers with increased parties, it may be the only way to make sure “We the People” are the lawmakers.