Last year, Maine became the first state to implement ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. Last week, more than 73 percent of voters in New York City voted to join 18 other U.S. cities in using ranked-choice voting for future elections. Most importantly for Kansans, voters in the Democratic primary in May 2020 will cast ranked-choice ballots for the first time in its history.
Ranked-choice voting may seem new and trendy, but it actually has an on-again off-again history in the United States. Around the turn of the 20th century, it was adopted in many cities. However the system eventually fell out of use in most places in the 1960s, when it was blamed for politically benefiting communists during the height of the Red Scare and effectively labeled “un-American.”
For those who are unfamiliar with ranked-choice voting, it’s not as scary as it sounds.
A ranked-choice system allows voters to choose their top candidates in order of preference. Implementation can vary in practice, but generally how it works is if no candidate receives a majority of votes, the candidate with the least number of first choice votes is eliminated and their voters’ second choice is applied. This process continues until a candidate receives over 50 percent of votes.
Most places in the United States still use the First Past The Post voting system, where a candidate only needs a plurality to win — which could be a small percentage of total votes, as long as it happens to be more than the other candidates.
FPTP, combined with the United States’s predominantly two-party system, leaves most voters choosing which candidate they dislike the least of two main candidates, for fear of hurting the “electable” candidate they identify with more if they voted third party.
The problem is, many Americans don’t identify with either political party. Gallup found in 2017 that 42 percent of Americans identified as political independents.
Combined with our current party structure, which often has primaries closed to those who are not registered members, the result is that almost half of Americans are effectively given no say in the candidate selection process.
The adoption of ranked-choice voting across the country reflects Americans’ widespread frustration with a two-party system that shuts out third parties and polarizes every contentious issue. Many Americans have finally reached the point again where they’re tired of having to choose between two parties that seem to be increasingly out of touch with the average citizen.
The use of ranked-choice voting in the United States will give third-party candidates, and lesser known candidates within the two major parties, a better shot at representing the people who feel their voices aren’t heard. Voters will be able to cast their ballots for candidates they truly believe in, not just the ones they think have a shot at being elected.
Ranked-choice voting isn’t perfect, and won’t directly solve all the problems that our democracy faces, such as gerrymandering, voter registration purges and general political apathy, but it’s clear that it is the next step towards building a more representative democracy for future generations.
Rebecca Vrbas is senior in journalism and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.