BY FREDA MIKLIN
A look at the current election for Denver mayor demonstrates why ranked choice voting (RCV) was created to elect the candidate preferred by the largest number of voters in one efficient election event.
According to fairvote.org, “RCV– also known as “instant runoff” voting– improves fairness in elections by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. RCV is straightforward: voters have the option to rank candidates in order of preference: first, second, third, and so forth. Votes that do not help voters’ top choices win count for their next choice. It works in all types of elections and supports more representative outcomes.”
Using RCV, all candidates’ first-choice votes are tallied. The candidate with the fewest total votes is eliminated and all votes are re-tallied, with the vote of those who chose the eliminated candidate given to their second-choice candidate. That process is repeated, mathematically and automatically, until one candidate has received over 50 percent of the vote. That is why it is called an instant runoff.
RCV results in the candidate most preferred by the largest number of voters being elected, without the need for a costly and contentious runoff election.
It also avoids a situation that could easily happen in the Denver mayoral election where 17 candidates filed campaign finance reports on February 1, indicating they are all still running in the April 4 election. With the votes split between 17 different candidates, it is difficult to imagine how anyone will get over 50%, so there is very likely going to be a runoff. The other result of splitting the vote 17 ways is that it is mathematically likely that the two top vote-getters may each receive a relatively small percentage of the votes cast. Thus, it is possible, even likely that the runoff will be between two candidates who were each preferred by less than 20 percent of those who cast ballots.
With RCV, there is no costly runoff, (which in Denver, will occur two months after the original vote,) and the “instant” winner in the sole election is the person who is most preferred by the largest number of voters participating in that election.
In primaries, RCV also results in the winner being the candidate most preferred by the largest number of voters. Under traditional procedures, if a candidate in a primary wins by a plurality, (receiving less than 50% of the vote,) which is common in Colorado, that person usually gets his or her party’s nomination. A primary winner, even with a small plurality, in a state or county or even a local legislative district that tilts toward one party (and most do), often wins or loses in the general election simply because of the R or D that follows the candidate’s name.
RCV results in candidates who enjoy wider support winning primaries thus giving them a better chance to win the general election, even when one party tends to be dominant.
A detailed study of how winners in traditional primaries who received weak pluralities were elected to congressional and statewide offices around the country in the November 2022 election, largely due to the overall political leanings of their state, can be found at https://fairvote.org/report/fewest-votes-wins-plurality-victories-in-2022-primaries/. Although legally elected, they often don’t represent the majority of the views of their constituents. That is much less likely to happen with RCV.
In Colorado, RCV is already in use in the cities of Carbondale, Telluride and Basalt. The cities of Fort Collins, Broomfield and Boulder have voted to use RCV in upcoming elections.
In Maine and Alaska, RCV is used statewide for all federal elections. In Alaska, it is also used statewide for all state general elections. Maine uses it for all state primaries.
In Utah, RCV is used for local elections in over 20 cities. In Minnesota, it is used for local elections in five cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is also used for local elections in Santa Fe and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The states of Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina use RCV for military and overseas voters.
Even Robert’s Rules of Order, the accepted guide for parliamentary procedure, along with recognized political scientists from the law schools of Harvard, Stanford, George Washington, Loyola, University of Memphis, and the University of Southern California, plus professors from the Universities of Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and numerous other academic institutions, along with a former governor of Utah, and the late Sen. John McCain, have all issued public statements supporting RCV.