Within the majority of the U.S. voters get to cast 1 ballot vote for each position up for election. In this system the candidate with the most votes wins election. There is a specific distinction that I would like to make; the candidate with the most not majority of the votes. This means that a candidate may win election having received less than 50% of votes. This is known as a plurality system. At first glance however, it seems appropriate that each voter should only cast one ballot. Afterall that is what our country was founded on. However, this year, Massachusetts voters will vote on a proposition to amend their election system with a proposal called ranked choice voting (RCV). Already in place in Maine ranked choice voting is touted as a way to expand electoral fields and to elect a representative who truly best represents the majority of voters wishes.
Simply put, voters get to “rank” each candidate as their first, second, or third choices. Election officials then go through each ballot and determine who got the least first choice votes. That person is then eliminated from the running and the ballots with their name as first choice then get cast towards the second-choice candidate. This continues until there is only one winner left standing. Proponents of RCV say that it allows voters to have greater say in the election and that the winning candidate best represents the wishes of the people. Opponents often claim that RCV is too complicated of a method and that it will deter voter participation. According to FairVote.org cities with RCV report more positive campaigning messages because candidates are also competing for voters second choice votes. These cities also claim to have higher satisfaction ratings with their elections than those without RCV.
Certainly, one of the chief concerns for those who oppose RCV is the time necessary to count votes and establish a winner. With Maine set to use RCV for the 2020 presidential election, its officials are already getting out the message that vote counting may take longer than usual… up to two weeks. In an article in The Wall Street Journal, Maine officials said that any delays in vote counting, “isn’t on its own a cause for concern”. The article goes on to say the support for RCV also prevents voters from having to worry about a 3rd party candidate drawing votes and “spoiling” an election for a mainstream candidate. RCV allows voters to vote their conscience without worrying about whether that vote may cost their second choice the election.
Additionally, a third benefit to RCV is seen as its ability to help dilute and diversify the candidate pool. With the ability to pick 2nd and 3rd place choices, voters are more likely to vote their conscience for 3rd party political candidates. This is largely seen as a positive as it encourages a broader political landscape to choose from. For example, in this year’s election, many far left voters were unhappy with the candidacy of Joe Biden and yet felt forced to vote for him as he most “nearly” represented their interests. Had there been a more liberal 3rd party candidate they might have placed their first-choice vote for them. The same can be said on the right for voters who don’t want to vote for President Trump’s re-election yet don’t agree with Biden’s policies. A centrist third party candidate may in fact be more aligned with their political ideology. RCV would allow these different candidates to bloom and run valid campaigns.
Again, critics of an RCV system continue claim that the more complicated the voting system the less likely voters will be to participate. A republican candidate from Maine, Bruce Poliquin attempted a lawsuit against the constitutionality of RCV, according to an article written in TIME magazine. The ruling in this case was that the constitution allows for States to choose their election system, taking it out of federal government hands. Moving forward some states will start to enact RCV in their primary and local elections. Massachusetts, however, will vote this year to enact RCV statewide for all elections. For an entertaining and detailed description of our voting system and ranked choice voting I encourage you to watch an episode from Patriot Act by comedian and political commentator Hassan Minhaj found here: (at time stamp 2:28)
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