America Can Save Money and Time with Ranked Choice Voting

Image for post
Image for post
When states voted in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary (map Josh Putnam)

The American election cycle is too long. Politicians spend far too much time courting donors and campaigning instead of governing. There is no one silver bullet that will fix this, but ranked choice voting, in addition to helping third parties and limiting voter fraud can help here too.

First, a refresher on how ranked choice voting works: Instead of checking one candidate, voters rank their candidates 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on until they have ranked all the candidates running. If one candidate has a majority of votes, they are declared the winner and the election is over. If not, a series of rounds are kicked off. In the first round, the person with the least votes is eliminated. Everyone that ranked this candidate first has their vote given to the highest remaining candidate on their ballot. Originally, this would be their second choice. As the rounds go on and more candidates get eliminated, an individual’s vote could be for their third or fourth choice and so on. The rounds are halted once a candidate receives a majority of votes.

Run-Off Elections

In many states, if no candidate gets over 50 percent of the votes, the top two candidates enter a run-off election. The two senate run-offs in Georgia are the most prominent examples currently. It is an impulse that makes sense. You want to be governed by somebody that won a majority of votes. It would be nice if this were the case for all elections in America. Unfortunately, run-off elections are costly, it is estimated that up to 1 billion dollars could be spent on the Georgia run-off, and take time away from governing.

Ranked choice voting not only ensures a candidate wins a majority of votes, but it also saves the expense of a run-off. As such, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

(One aspect that might give Democrats qualms is highlighted in the Senate run-off races in Georgia. It seems likely that both Democrats would have lost outright rather than advanced to a run-off with ranked choice voting. For example, Democrat Jon Ossoff received less votes than his Republican opponent David Perdue. With ranked choice voting, it is likely that the votes given to the two candidates from Libertarian Shane Hazel would have propelled Perdue to a majority. Still, this is a potential plus in advocating for ranked choice voting. It is non-partisan.)

Presidential Primaries

Perhaps nothing drags out elections more in America than presidential primaries. Democrats and Republicans could nominate their presidential candidates in a single day. Instead, the process drags out over months. To add to this inefficiency, the primary process is unfair. States that go early like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have more say in choosing the nominee than states that go later like Connecticut, New Mexico, and New York. Often times the nomination is secured before all states have voted. This year, some states even canceled their primaries due to the covid-19 pandemic

That said, the presidential primaries do serve one important function by weeding-out the less serious contenders. As these candidates drop out with each state, people can cast their vote for a candidate that has a good chance of winning. If everyone voted all at once some of this benefit would go away.

Ranked choice voting can keep most of the benefits of an extended primary season while doing away with its inefficiency and unfairness. If a voter’s preferred candidate loses by a significant amount, their vote can go to their second candidate and so on. The narrowing of candidates occurs without needing a long, drawn-out process. An added bonus is that voters can feel freer to choose their favorite candidate without worrying about their chances.

Fake Candidates

There is strong evidence that in three races for the Florida Senate false candidates were run to siphon off votes from Democrats. In one of these races in Miami-Dade County, Republican Ileana Garcia beat Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez by 31 votes. A fake candidate, Alex Rodriguez, received more than 6300 votes. Candidate Alex Rodriguez has a false address and almost the entirety of his funding comes from a PAC called “Our Florida”. The identical last names of Alex Rodriguez and Jose Javier Rodriguez strongly suggest that candidate Alex Rodriguez entered the race to siphon votes away from the Democrat. The scheme appears to have worked very well.

Ranked choice voting could stop this type of fraud. If a majority was not achieved (as was the case with this race), the people that voted for Alex Rodriguez would have their votes go towards their second choice candidate, either the Democrat or the Republican. The fake candidate would not affect the result of the race.

Final Verdict

It is time for ranked choice voting in America.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store