Congratulations to the voters of New York City for overwhelmingly approving Ballot Question 1 yesterday to establish Ranked Choice Voting in the City starting in 2021.
With Ranked Choice Voting, voters have more choice, candidates have more incentive to campaign positively, and election results reflect the will of the majority. In approving this simple, intuitive reform, the voters of New York have shown their commitment to consensus and civility over divisiveness and discord.
Ranked Choice Voting is on the rise across the country because citizens are fed up with polarization, ineffective government, and flawed election rules. Our election system is now the most extreme version of winner-take-all on the planet, forcing us to fight win-at-all-cost battles every cycle. At Election Reformers Network, we have seen from our work overseas how reforming election rules can reduce this polarization, while increasing voter confidence and improving public policy. This perspective gives us faith that Americans are not irretrievably divided, faith that reforms like Ranked Choice Voting can lead us to a better politics.
Simple plurality voting (where the candidate with the most votes wins even if opposed by the majority) is the norm in the U.S. not because this system is in the Constitution or endorsed by the Founders; instead this approach was simply all that the available technology could manage when we started voting in the 1600s. Countries coming later to democracy have leap-frogged us with innovations that use the moment of voting to learn more about what voters want. And as in so many other areas of life, more data on what people want will mean better outcomes from our elections and our government.
Ranked Choice Voting is the response we need to the intense grassroots mobilization that has significantly increased the number of candidates running for office and the number of crowded races. In 2018 146 U.S. House primaries had five or more candidates, by the far the most in U.S. history, and more than twice the amount of the next closest year. 212 primaries had four or more candidates that year. This context makes it certain some Members will be elected with support of only a fraction of the electorate. Our research found that Members who entered the House after a primary win below 35 percent are significantly more partisan than Members who win with majority support. In other words, something as simple as how we vote is helping to create the growing extremism we all decry.
Following Maine’s ground breaking referendum for RCV in 2016, Massachusetts and Alaska will likely be the next states to vote on this system, in 2020, and the reform is also gaining ground in cities and counties in Colorado and Utah, which passed laws providing for it at the municipal level. The recently introduced Ranked Choice Voting Act (HR 4464) puts RCV elections on the horizon for all House and Senate primary and general elections.
Democrat Jared Golden’s Ranked Choice victory in Maine last year over a GOP incumbent has Republicans mistakenly thinking RCV is not for them. But Republicans who have seen first-hand how a divided primary can hurt the party are leading the charge for this reform. After losing a three-way primary to the more conservative Corey Stewart, who was then soundly beaten in the general election, Virginia GOP Senate candidate Nick Freitas became the lead sponsor of RCV legislation in the Virginia House of Delegates. And former Massachusetts GOP Chair Jennifer Nassour is now a vocal RCV advocate after watching her party primary pick the least electable of three challengers to Elizabeth Warren.
In the past, Ranked Choice Voting was a “nice to have” favored by academics and small liberal cities. In an atmosphere of increasing political extremism, and in the context of much more crowded elections, ranked choice voting is now a “need to have” for our country and for both parties.
Thank you to the voters of New York for showing the way!