How ranked-choice voting slays toxic partisanship

TL;DR: Ranked-choice voting is dope.

Think of it as a ninja in the fight against toxic partisanship.

  1. It reduces negative campaigning.
  2. It eliminates the ability for a third party candidate to “spoil” an election.
  3. It increases the likelihood moderate candidates win.
  4. It increases voter turnout.

Okay I’m intrigued, but what is it actually?

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If not, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and second preference choices are allocated to the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until someone obtains a majority.

Hmmm I’m still not there…

Let’s walk through an example. Christian, Jake and Sueah are running for office. Voters rank each candidate #1, #2 or #3. In the initial tally:

Christian gets 40% of the #1 votes. 

Sueah gets 40% of the #1 votes. 

Jake gets 20% of the #1 votes.

Because no one got 50%, the person in last place — Jake — gets eliminated.

Now we take a look at Jake’s fans to see who they put for their #2.

Let’s say 90% of Jake’s fans put Sueah #2.

And 10% of Jake’s fans put Christian #2.

Since Jake is eliminated from the race, those votes get allocated to Sueah and Christian. 

The votes get re-tallied:

Christian: 42%

Sueah: 58%

….and ladies and gentleman we have ourselves a winner, miss Sueah Kim!!


Reduces Negative Campaigning

Ranked-choice voting flips the incentivize to negatively campaign on its head. A campaign attack ad intentionally channels fear and anger against your opponents. However, it also pisses off the supporters of your opponent. It makes them feel like their beliefs are under personal attack. This, unsurprisingly, makes those voters strongly dislike you.

With ranked-choice voting, candidates are incentivized to get as many people as possible to rank them #2. They cannot afford to piss off people who may be willing to put them #2. Therefore, they run far fewer and less intense negative ads.

Eliminates A ‘Spoiler’

In the 2000 Presidential election, Florida decided the election. George W. Bush received only 537 more votes than Al Gore in Florida. Ralph Nader — a popular independent candidate running for President — received 97,421 total votes in Florida.

Many believe a majority of Nader voters would have voted for Gore, had Nader not been running. If true, Florida and the presidency would have gone to Gore. This is called the “spoiler effect”. A spoiler is a third party candidate that “steals” votes which would have elected the second place candidate.

With ranked-choice voting, it is not possible to spoil an election. In 2000, if ranked-choice voting was in place, Nader voters would have ranked Gore or Bush as their #2. When Nader finished third, he would have been eliminated. Then, whoever Nader’s voters put #2 would have received their vote.

Increases Likelihood Moderate Candidates Win

Today, if there are 5 candidates in a race, whoever gets the most votes wins — even if they receive less than 50%. This process elects partisans without majority support.

Under ranked-choice voting, this happens far less frequently. This is because a liberal won’t rank a conservative #2, but will rank a moderate #2. Same goes for a conservative, they will rank a moderate #2. Which means in a 5-candidate race under ranked-choice voting, each time votes are recalculated the candidates with broad appeal to both sides accumulate more votes.

This elects moderates who were not most peoples’ first choice, but someone who they nonetheless actually support.

Increases Turnout

More moderate candidates, no fear of spoiling an election and less negative campaigning lead more voters to feel like the process is working for them. They get involved and vote in higher rates.

A recent study of 79 elections conducted in 26 cities identified a 10 percent increase in [voter turnout for] ranked-choice primaries and general elections, compared to non-RCV contests.


Go Deeper

In Making the case for ranked-choice voting, professor Altschuler writes:

“Contrary to claims that ranked-choice voting is too complicated, confusing and cumbersome for many citizens, evidence suggests that virtually every voter casts a valid first-choice ballot. RCV may actually increase turnout by generating more competitive races with a broader range of candidates. A recent study of 79 elections conducted in 26 cities identified a 10 percent increase in ranked-choice primaries and general elections, compared to non-RCV contests. Technology now permits officials to run ranked-choice voting algorithms as early as election night — or once absentee and provisional ballots have been processed.”

A Thoughtful Critique

In Ranked-Choice Voting Is Not the Solution, journalist Simon Waxman writes:

“There is also little reason to believe that RCV will promote legislative moderation — or new campaign tactics — at the federal level, because it usually produces outcomes similar to what one would expect from a standard plurality system. In the 2013 Australian federal election, 90 percent of constituencies elected the candidate with the most first-preference votes, which suggests that choice ranking had little effect on the outcome.”

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