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Could Ranked Choice Voting Help Save the Parties from Themselves?

Created: 18 July, 2018
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read


Video Source: Rebel HQ

When it comes to electoral reform right now, there is no hotter topic -- arguably -- than ranked choice voting (RCV). I have covered its use and its growth in popularity extensively on IVN, and momentum for the reform continues to grow.

The biggest news came in June when Maine became the first state in the US to use RCV for state and non-presidential federal elections. The numbers indicate that independent voters drove its success, and Maine saw historic turnout in both parties' primaries.

Now there are grassroots efforts in states like Nevada, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Illinois, and more to get the reform approved by ballot initiative or through the legislative process.

And in a recent interview with Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks (TYT), FairVote CEO Rob Richie suggests the major parties should consider using it as well:

"You talk to a lot of Republicans who I think still wish they could have used ranked choice voting in the presidential primaries when there were 15 candidates for a while, then 10. The first primary was not won with more than half the votes until late April. Democrats are facing that in 2020. It's sort of an equal issue of, let's have a system where you can do more than just vote for more than one person, and where the candidate has incentives to try to build greater support."

Interesting fact: New York was the first primary (not counting caucuses or conventions) among the states to be decided by over 50 percent of the vote on April 19.

In his interview, Richie added that he expects ranked choice voting to be more commonly used in primary elections.

It's no secret that the political parties tend to support election reforms when they think it will benefit them. It's not about voters; it's about protecting the party's interests. But RCV advocates say the reform would benefit both parties equally.

Let's look at the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Many of the primaries and caucuses were decided by as little as 28 percent (Iowa) of the vote, meaning 72% of voters didn't vote for the winner. Most races were decided by less than 40 percent until mid-March.

Under ranked choice voting, maybe Trump would have still won, maybe not. But advocates point out that RCV forces candidates to campaign not just for voters' first vote, but their second, and in the case of the 2016 Republican field, their third choice (maybe fourth). This means the winning candidate has the broadest appeal from early on.

"You have to be someone who can make connections with more voters," says Richie. He later adds, "The candidates that do well are the ones that talk about issues that matter to those different groups of voters and find a way to make a connection."

Looking at the 2016 GOP field, it would have been the candidate who could find a way to bring together hardliners and independent-minded Republicans, and more importantly, independent voters who are having a greater impact in open contests and make up a plurality of the voting population.

Democrats could be looking at a similarly large field in 2020, which means a majority of contests until late in the primary season could be decided by a minority of participating voters. If candidates cannot demonstrate broad appeal early on, the party may find it difficult to win the White House.

Will the parties see the benefits of ranked choice voting ahead of the 2020 elections?

Photo Credit: Peeradach R / shutterstock.com