Published in The Fulcrum, November 13, 2019
Americans have long been talking about different reforms to our election system, but it’s a young upstart — ranked-choice voting — that is rocketing to center stage.
In New York City, most people had never heard of ranked-choice voting when the city’s Charter Commission announced in April that the reform would be on the November ballot. Yet a week ago, nearly three-quarters of city voters embraced the reform, despite opposition from the NAACP and the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. The result tripled the number of Americans living in jurisdictions using RCV to more than 12 million, with many more likely to follow.
In part the appeal of ranked-choice voting is practical; it is a simple, intuitive change that gives citizens more choice and more impact, and ensures election results reflect the will of the majority. In places like New York that rely on runoffs, it also saves taxpayers’ money.
But practicalities don’t propel popular movements; ranked-choice voting is on the rise across the country because it offers hope, hope to citizens who are fed up with polarization, who want civility and consensus in an era dominated by divisiveness and discord.
The election system in the United States is now the most extreme version of winner-take-all in the world, with a set of rules and incentives that force us to fight win-at-all-cost battles every cycle. Our voting rules, and our campaign finance system, conspire to under represent the majority and to prevent policies supported by vast majorities from becoming law. Ranked-choice voting can’t fix the whole mess, and indeed there is a risk that too much hope is being pinned on this reform. But it can certainly help.