One Change to Fix It All: Ranked Choice Voting

The American political and election systems are very intentionally broken. Every election we have a false choice between only two options. Candidates are chosen by the minority of their party that chooses to vote in any given primary – and often by a minority of that minority since candidates need only get the most votes, not a majority. Then we repeat that cycle in the general election, where it is in most cases completely unnecessary – especially after discounting all the votes that voters threw away on non-viable third-party candidates – for the winner to actually get a majority of the votes. And in the presidential election, it’s not even necessary to get the most votes – two of our last five presidents have been put into office after being expressly rejected by the voters.

No matter your side, your party, or your beliefs, our broken system and the false dichotomy it is built upon inevitably leads to a constant cycle of voting not for the candidate we truly believe in and support, and certainly not the best person for the job, but for the lesser of two evils.

But there is a very simple and powerful way to fix the system, safely expand our choices, and amplify the voices of the American people: ranked choice voting.

Ranked choice voting (RCV) ensures the winner of an election is the candidate actually chosen by a majority of the participating voters. More importantly, it allows people to vote their principles and consciences first, even if their preferred candidates have no chance of winning, without denying the ability (or responsibility) to also vote for the lesser of two evils.

Because of that, it gives voice to those other candidates and ideas, and lets the public show their support for them. That brings those issues, and the public’s passion for them, to the attention of the big parties, which can change their platforms for the better.

And, with RCV, if one of the lesser candidates genuinely appeals to the broad public, they can actually break the duopoly – without risk of throwing away one’s vote or throwing the election to the greater of the two evils presented by the major parties.

Above all, and of supreme importance, is that ranked choice voting is easy — easy to implement, easy to understand, and easy to participate in.

We have the infrastructure in place to implement it right now. It is merely a matter of changing the way the computers look at the ballots, so they tally all the votes for all the candidates, in the preferred order of the voters.

There’s not much simpler than “rank your choices from most favorite to least favorite”. People will have no problem understanding that they should bubble in the 1 next to their first choice for the election at hand, the 2 for their second choice, and so on.

Even so, no voter has to make more than one choice if they don’t want to. Want to continue to vote for one person and one person only, as you’ve always done? No problem.

Then, when the votes are tallied, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and all the votes cast for that candidate are reallocated to those voters’ next choice. This cycle continues, with complete transparency, until one candidate accumulates a majority of the votes, winning the election.

The winning candidate may not have been the first choice of every voter whose vote they received, but they will have been one of the voters’ choices. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not the lesser of two evils. And no vote is wasted or thrown away.

It may be – at least for a time – that the two big parties continue to win consistently by way of ranked choice voting. It will take time for voters to get used to, and build trust in, the new way of voting. But trust will come. And as it builds, the voices of the people will get progressively louder as they increasingly choose the candidates, ideas, and ideologies that they truly support and believe in as their first, second, and third votes.

Eventually, this will lead to a breakdown in the two-party structure, as third parties split off and rise up with different focuses, priorities, and visions. And the peoples’ support of them – even when they don’t win — will unambiguously announce to all parties what the real interests of the people are.

Because, among its many virtues, ranked choice voting is the ultimate public opinion poll.

If you eventually win an election where 20% or 25% of voters’ first or second choices went to a candidate who campaigned on an issue or vision you haven’t supported or incorporated into your platform, you’d better give that vision some consideration. And – as long as the candidate isn’t diametrically opposed to your own vision — you would likely be wise to try to find a way to bring them into your administration and put them to work on the issues they supported that the public so clearly cares about.

In this way, ranked choice voting will help build alliances across smaller parties, even as it drives the disintegration of the tyrannical two that have for too long dominated American politics, eventually putting into power whole governments that actual reflect and act upon the will of the people.

And that’s just one way RCV can help make politics more civil and more functional, because it ultimately encourages seeking common ground. With many smaller parties, it will be required that those with substantially aligned ideals work together across their differing priorities to build coalitions.

In the elections themselves, candidates will have to vie not just for a voter’s one and only choice (as our current system mandates), but for their second and third choices as well. If you have a candidate you love, and can’t bring yourself to vote for me over them, fine. Make me your second choice. Or even your third. Because those are all votes I may need, and may receive, if your first choice(s) don’t make the cut.

The net result of that reality is more civil discourse, more focus on shared values, and far less value from negative campaigning that tears down an opponent. Because their supporters can still be supporters of the other candidates, too.   

And when the attacks, the vilification, the othering, the demonization, the us-versus-them, the good-versus-evil rhetoric from our so-called leaders is diminished, our general public discourse will reflect it — just as it has reflected the endless increase in those sentiments as those in power have ramped them up. 

Simple. Easy to implement. Easy to understand. More choice. A louder voice for the people. More civility. More functional government. Better expression of, more reflection in the government of, and more implementation of the will of the people by the civil servants they put into place.

Ranked choice voting — in every election, at every level — is the one change that will remake our government, our nation, and even our culture in the best possible ways.

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