Letter: "Merits of Ranked Choice Voting"

Lincoln County News

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Many of us despair of getting a real fundamental choice of candidates when it comes to high office (as opposed to local elections) understanding that, in general, we are confronted with a choice of corporate candidate “A” vs corporate candidate “B,” yet this is where the major decisions are made, like war vs peace and environmental policy. This is no doubt a major reason voter turnout is low.

But AHA! There is a method of structuring the vote to allow for more real choice without incurring the dreaded “spoiler” designation. In so doing it correspondingly reduces money influence and improves authentic democracy. It is called Ranked Choice Voting, and is widely used in other countries and in several locations in the US. A form of it, called “instant run-off voting” was used in the last Portland mayoral race in 2011, with great success. With 15 candidates running, the highest vote total initially was 27%, meaning 73% voted for another.

With instant run-off voting, the candidates with the fewest votes is dropped off and the votes for that candidate were then distributed according to the voter's second choice, and so all—all computerized, so need for repeat elections. The process continued until one candidate got over 50% of the vote.

One of the many advantages is that its structure requires, by virtue of self interest, avoiding aggressive negative campaigning, and for each candidate to focus on his/her virtues and much less on the deficiencies of his/her opponent. Criticism that is raised will tend to be more nuanced and tactful, since each candidate may need, in subsequent rounds, the votes of those who voted for that opponent.

In a survey during that Portland election done by Dorothy Scheeline and Rob Ritchie, some interesting results were tabulated:

Survey results indicated that voters saw RCV more positively than negatively:

• More positive campaigns: 41% of respondents felt there was less negative campaigning than usual, as opposed to only 9% percent who found it more negative.

• More sincere voting: 45% of respondents felt more inclined to vote for their preferred candidate than in past elections, as opposed to only 1% percent (1 person) who said they were less inclined.

• More information about election: 39% of respondents said they gathered more information about candidates than in past elections, as opposed to 9% who said they gathered less information.

• More support for using RCV: 28% of respondents strongly supported RCV for electing the mayor, as opposed to only 8% that strongly opposed it. Overall, more than twice as many respondents supported RCV for mayoral elections than opposed it.

Voters also indicated that most voters found the ballot easy to use:

• Instructions and ballot design: 94% said they understood the voting instructions and design fully, 5% partially understood them and only 1 person was confused.

• Ranking candidates easy: 40% of vote found the concept of ranking candidates very easy as opposed to 4% who found it very hard. A total of 66% found it easy.

• Voters ranked candidates: Nearly three times as many voters ranked more than five candidates as ranked only one. 88% ranked at least two candidates.

One issue often raised in objection is that it is difficult to understand. But we use ranked choice all the time. If you go to a restaurant and your top choice is not available that day, you choose another. Remember the game of musical chairs, where there is one more person than chairs? In each round, one person gets eliminated until only two remain, and eventually one person wins. That is how ranked choice voting works!  A referendum is in the works to vote on implementing this method. Let's DO IT!


Jon Olsen


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