Elections in the United States are facing an unprecedented challenge: a huge increase in the number of candidates running for office. This is the context that makes ranked choice voting such an important reform.
The traditional method for determining the winner in U.S. election (“simple plurality” or “first past the post”) works well when two candidates are running. But in crowded races with many candidate this system can easily result in winners with low percentages of the vote, who may not be preferred by, or even be in step with, the majority.
In 2018 146 U.S. House primaries had five or more candidates, 212 had four or more. That’s by far the most in U.S. history.
This surge in candidates reflects the takeover by the grassroots of the candidate nominating process that in the past was controlled by the political parties.
This context makes it certain some elections will result in winners supported by only a slim fraction of the electorate.
Our research found that, on average, members who entered Congress after winning a primary with less than 35 percent are significantly more partisan than those who win with majority support. In other words, the mechanics of how we vote help create the growing extremism we all decry.
The solution is using the mechanism of ranked choice voting to translate this new, many-faceted participation into results that represent the majority.
With RCV, voters mark a ballot designed to show first, second, and third choices (or more). The ballots are then counted in rounds (called “instant runoff”) in which the least-supported candidate is eliminated at each round. By taking into account multiple preferences, ranked choice ensures, in nearly all cases, that the winner is voted for by the majority and is the most preferred candidate.
The ranked choice mechanism shifts election results to the center of the electorate and to more representative nominees. Because candidates need to heed a larger electorate beyond their core supporters, RCV also makes campaigning less negative and promotes more collaborative approaches and candidates. RCV is used in a half-dozen countries around the world and in growing number of cities and states around the country. Evaluations show that voters prefer it to simple plurality.