RCV is about the process, not the winners

Candidates of all ideologies can win ranked choice voting elections

By Lily Hart

As ranked choice voting (RCV) gains popularity throughout the country, so do misconceptions of the voting system. American politics are increasingly hyper-partisan. When certain parties utilize RCV in their elections, or when a candidate wins through the process of ranked choice voting, there is a false belief that RCV only benefits said candidate’s party. When progressives benefit from RCV, Republicans may feel as though the system is rigged against them. When Republicans benefit from the voting system, progressives tend to feel the same way. It’s time to put this fallacy to rest. Ranked choice voting simply makes the process of voting candidates into office fairer.

Republicans have Benefited…. But so Have Progressives… and Moderate Politicians

Republicans

A few examples of RCV benefitting Republicans include the triumphs of Susan Collins and Glenn Youngkin. Susan Collins is currently the senior Senator of Maine, and Glenn Youngkin was recently elected as the new Governor of Virginia.

It was a bit of a shock to some that Susan Collins was able to pull through last year’s (2020) Senate race. Polling suggested that both Collins and Sara Gideon (D) were neck and neck up until election day. In the end, voters, while utilizing ranked choice voting, chose Collins to continue her career in the Senate. Collins ran on a local-first focused platform. She would often bring up the fact that she was born and grew up in Caribou (a rural area of Maine), and that her leading opponent, Gideon, had lived in Maine less than 2 decades. Collins won within 51% of the vote in the first round of tabulating the RCV ballots.

Glenn Youngkin is another Republican who benefited from RCV. When it came time to pick a Republican candidate to run for Governor in Virginia, the GOP wanted to pick someone that would satisfy all Republicans across the political spectrum. Through the process of ranked choice voting at a statewide convention, delegates decided on Youngkin. By the last round, he had earned 55% of their vote. Clearly ranked choice voting has been able to help Republicans either achieve the perfect party candidate, or to win an election all together.

Liberals

Liberals have also benefited from ranked choice voting. In 2018, Democrat Jared Golden defeated incumbent Republican ​​Bruce Poliquin, in the first ever general Congressional election that used RCV. While Golden did not gain the 50%+1 votes needed to win in the first RCV round, he was ultimately successful in the second round. Golden’s overall strategy to win included collecting back-up support from independents and swearing off collecting campaign funds from corporate PACs.

In 2016 in Berkeley, California, Jesse Arreguin became the city’s first Latino mayor . He was elected through the process of ranked-choice voting. By the final round of tabulations, Arreguin won by 60% of the votes. With 8 candidates running, the race proved to be extremely competitive as it took 6 rounds of tabulating RCV votes for the winner to be determined. As a progressive candidate, he was publicly backed by other progressives such as Bernie Sanders, and the Alameda County Democratic Party. Arreguin was reelected as mayor of Berkeley, CA in 2020 after only one round of ranked-choice voting.

Moderates

Similar to liberals and Republicans, moderates have benefited from ranked choice voting elections. This past summer, Eric Adams experienced victory in a ranked choice election in New York City. Adams ran in the Democratic Mayoral primary, which was competitive and included many candidates who were more progressive than him. Because of the number of candidates, using ranked choice voting just made sense. Voters could look at the list of those running for office and rank them in the fashion they thought was best. Eric Adams prevailed with 50.5% of the vote in the final round.

Another moderate, Kate Snyder, also became privy to the perks RCV has to offer. In 2019, she ran for mayor of Portland (the one in Maine, not Oregon). The race was extremely competitive- especially as two other moderate opponents were running, one of whom was the incumbent at the time. Synder prevailed as the winner in the second round. This instance proved that not every election involving multiple moderate candidates will end up in a split vote.

While moderates are not always triumphant in ranked choice voting elections, these two candidates were.

Conclusion

These examples prove just how nonpartisan ranked choice voting really is. RCV can help candidates of all ideologies and party affiliations to be elected; it simply incentivizes better campaigning while removing the concept of a so-called “spoiler” candidate. Candidates are more likely to win when they engage a wider array of voters beyond their base. They are also more likely to win voters’ second and third rankings if they run positive campaigns, rather than sling mud at each other and try to discourage their opponents’ supporters from showing up. And lastly, they’re less likely to lose races where a number of candidates with similar ideologies or backgrounds run at the same time. Ranked choice voting reflects the electorate more accurately than plurality-winner elections, which means the winner is more likely to be chosen based on their platforms and their appeal to voters than by vote-splitting or appealing to their base, whether they are politically left, right, or center.