Last Tuesday was the first statewide election in America using a new type of voting system. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), was adopted by Maine in 2016. After contentious battles between the voters of Maine and its Republican Governor and Legislature, Ranked Choice Voting was implemented and first used this year in the primary and general elections.
It was a test of a new electoral system that has been discussed in political science circles for decades. In fact, several cities across the country like Santa Fe and Minneapolis have already implemented this voting system. Some other states like California also already use a top-two model, or jungle primary, to determine their elections. So how does Ranked Choice Voting work, and what did Maine’s experiment show the country?
Ranked Choice Voting is a voting system where you rank the candidates on the ballot according to your preference. Fairvote, a non-profit organization founded in 1992 to advance voter choice and ranked choice voting across the country, describes RCV as:
…a voting systems that allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates able to combine strong first choice support with the ability to earn second and third choice support.
There is a 1 min video that visually explains the RCV/IRV voting process in a simple and clear way.
In a RCV system, the winner of the election must get 50 percent+ of the vote, a clear majority. RCV also gives more power and choice to the voter. Through a RCV system, voters will no longer feel that they are throwing a vote away or acting as a spoiler.
So how did it go in Maine? While the Governor and Senate races did have three challengers, the winners ultimately ended up having over 50 percent of the vote on the first count and therefore RCV was not initiated. The same goes for the 1st Congressional District in Maine. However, there is a race where RCV will determine the outcome: the 2nd District.
Because no candidate achieved a majority of the vote on the first ballot, the candidate who earned the least amount of vote, William Hoar, will have their votes be redistributed to their 2nd choice. If no candidate has 50.01 percent after the first redistribution, then Tiffany Bond’s votes will also be redistributed to their 2nd choice as she now has the least amount of votes. After this redistribution, mathematically one of the two remaining candidates will have over 50 percent. This race will be the first federal election to be determined by Ranked Choice Voting.
How will this affect Rhode Island? One of the modern examples of how Ranked Choice Voting could have played a major role in determining an election is the 2014 Governor’s race. This three-way race between Gina Raimondo, Allan Fung, and Bob Healey ended in a plurality result favoring Raimondo. If an RCV system were in place, Healey’s votes would have been redistributed to their second choice. It would have ensured the winner received at least 50 percent of the vote compared to the 40 percent plurality that put Gina in the State House.
A RCV system would give voters more power in choosing outside the duopoly and for the Moderate, Green or Libertarian candidate without fear of playing a spoiler. This will allow competitive third parties to rise and build their own base in the state. While the major parties may not like it, this transition would be beneficial to our democracy; one-party rule may end in Rhode Island.
With the rampant corruption and burden of the duopoly, it is more important than ever to increase the power of voters in terms of choice and utilizing their right to vote. A recent Voter Study Group survey reports that over 68 percent of Americans want a third party. In fact, nearly 5 parties would be needed to adequately represent the ideological spectrum of the electorate. Ranked Choice Voting can be the solution to rectifying this problem.
Maine has shown the country and other states that Ranked Choice Voting is possible at the state level. It is up to supporters of democratic electoral reform to lobby their state legislators and governor to adopt a RCV voting system. Fairvote.org has a plethora of resources to do this. Ranked Choice Voting RI is a new and upcoming activist group in Rhode Island. If we fight, we can transform our electoral system and give power back to voters!