Our democracy is predicated on the honorable concept that the candidate with the majority of the people’s support will be chosen to represent the people. That concept appears to be an intuitive feature of any democratic process. Except, in reality, the American political system couldn’t be farther from that idea. Many political experts and community voices have prescribed Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as the solution to this undemocratic reality. Within this alternative approach, voters are able to rank their first, second, and third choice of candidates (or more). The first-choice votes are initially tallied for each candidate. The candidate who receives the least of these first-choice votes is eliminated. The second-choice picks of the voters who supported this losing candidate are then tallied and distributed to the other candidates. Following multiple potential rounds of redistribution, a true representative winner is found.
RCV has had real legislative application. RCV has been used federally in both Alaska and Maine, while also being implemented in 53 counties and cities across the country, as of January 2023.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to pick their real first choice, without worry of undermining larger politicians that somewhat align with their interests. A diverse range of candidates can enter the playing field and be taken seriously, representing the pressing needs of long-ignored communities. Those establishment politicians can no longer coast to an unearned victory by being the “least-bad” option of the candidates deemed viable to win. Promising progressive ideas previously denigrated as politically unfeasible can now enter the public consciousness and halls of political power. Ranked-choice voting, in conjunction with other democratic reforms, can build an American future that provides space for promising revolutionary ideas and movements, rather than stifling them.
Our system today is built upon the concept of Single Member Plurality. In races with more than two candidates, an individual candidate need only gain more votes than all other individual candidates. A real majority is not required to win the election. A candidate can win an election with an incredibly low percentage of vote, as long as the rest of the voting base is split into smaller shares amongst the losing candidates. For example, in an election of 4 hypothetical candidates (A, B, C, and D), candidate A could win with only 35% of the total vote, as long as candidates B, C, and D receive 25%, 20%, and 20% of the vote, respectively. The nature of this outcome is prevalent to varying degrees in Federal, State, and Local primary and/or general elections across the nation.
The harms of this status quo have become so deeply embedded within our standard political thought, we frequently fail to recognize their existence. The idea of a “spoiler candidate” is incredibly commonplace, in which people are discouraged from voting for candidates they actually like if that candidate has a minimal chance of victory, as a means of ensuring the votes of a larger candidate are not divided. In an almost cruel feedback loop, the discouragement of voting for the “spoiler candidate” reduces their chances of winning or competing, thereby causing them to become more of a “spoiler”, in an unfair cycle.
This phenomenon bleeds into the larger accepted political issue: forced conformity towards the establishment. If people prioritize voting for establishment candidates they merely tolerate because of their higher chance of winning, no real political change or improvement can be achieved. Voters are forced to support candidates that often represent the same corporate-backed status quo. Candidates themselves are encouraged to conform towards that establishment baseline. Politicians in power can remain entirely complacent, knowing that no formidable challenge will be mustered against them. Diverse candidates, often those representing bold and innovative ideas, are entirely discouraged from running and entirely prevented from winning.
Arguably most concerningly, candidates across the political spectrum are encouraged to only prioritize certain voting bases, populations, or demographics. In a large race of many options, why should any candidate attempt to address the needs of the wider constituency, when winning with only 30% of the vote is entirely feasible? Often, politicians will flock towards the high-propensity, white home-owning voter-base as their most valued demographic, given the low threshold necessary for victory.
In order to bring democracy back into politics, I will support initiatives to expand Ranked Choice Voting and bring a greater diversity of ideas and values into American elections.