Reform The Vote: The Case for Ranked Choice Voting

Jul 14, 2019 · 4 min read
Activists in Maine submit signatures to put ranked choice voting on the ballot (Source: The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting).

By Victor Shi

After a cold, snowy January night, I could have easily stayed home to play in the snow or enjoy hot chocolate, but I chose to travel three hours to convene one final time for Governor JB Pritzker’s Emerging Youth Leaders Transition Team in Illinois’s capital, Springfield. Each of the twelve members had strong views about how to shape Illinois into a better state. With every perspective contributed, every word spoken, every topic discussed, and every disagreement made, the transition team sought to guide Illinois in the right direction for future generations. It was a life-changing program.

When I got home after the program ended, I kept pursuing ideas that I yearned to see legislated in Illinois. One of the best ideas for making sure Illinois has a bright future is ranked-choice voting (RCV), a policy that would bring simple, but fundamental reform to our voting system and democracy. If adopted, it will cause more people to vote, and, hopefully, mold a more representative government.

Here’s where I admit: I’m a seventeen-year-old and have never voted. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t know a good way to vote when I see it. After all, for two years I’ve interned, canvassed, and phone banked for my Congressman, Brad Schneider, and I’ve seen immense frustrations with the current political system that ultimately causes citizens not to vote in an election. Some people just don’t have enough time, but many feel like their voice won’t be represented or they feel that their vote will be insignificant. Another big group is totally turned off by the vitriolic, name-calling political culture. Ranked-choice voting can help engage many of these people, because it solves many of these problems.

Ranked-choice voting is very simple. Instead of giving people an all-or-nothing choice, it allows people to rank their favorite candidates in order of preference. In this way, RCV mirrors the way we make decisions at the grocery store or debate which outfit to wear on a particular day: I like this one first, this one second, and so forth.

Compared to our current voting system ranked choice voting is more effective for many reasons. It gives voters an amplified voice in an election, it gives voters confidence that one of their preferred candidates will be chosen, and it restores majority rule. This combination makes ranked-choice voting the ideal system to spur higher voter turnout among adults, elderly, and most importantly, youth.

Some people claim that such a policy would cause widespread confusion. That’s a valid concern — voting should be simple. But its use a few states like Maine shows that RCV is just as easy to use as any other ballot.

Moreover, while voting itself is extraordinarily easy, the counting process is straightforward too. We currently use so-called “plurality” elections, where the single candidate with the most votes wins — even if that candidate gets less than fifty percent of the vote. But under RCV, a candidate must secure the majority of votes to win.

So, what if a candidate doesn’t meet the fifty-one percent threshold of first-choice votes? That’s where this method is genius. The candidate that comes in last gets eliminated and those voters’ second choice — or third, fourth, fifth, etc. — gets redistributed until there are either two candidates left or a candidate receives above fifty percent of the votes.

A great use for RCV will be the 2020 Democratic Primaries. With over twenty candidates, the declared “winner” of a primary will almost surely have well less than 50% support. Moreover, some candidates who don’t meet certain thresholds will be ignored in the allocating of delegates. Using RCV would both ensure that the winner is a candidate with majority support and that the delegate count reflects the true preferences of voters.

In the states that have adopted this policy, voters have noticed less negative campaigning, higher voter turnout, reduced costs because run-off elections aren’t required, and more women and people of color running for office. Overall, voter satisfaction is higher in places where RCV is used. As a student, my desire is simple: to see a democracy that represents the people. With our current political atmosphere where many issues are at stake, making sure that everyone turns out and votes is essential to reversing the cultural and political ordeal this country is experiencing.

Within the past ten years, ranked-choice voting has been gaining momentum because it’s a system that gives power back to the people and allows people to feel like their voice is heard in the process. When I am able to vote in the 2020 presidential primaries, I know that RCV won’t be a reality — at least in my home state, Illinois. But through advocacy, lobbying, and education, my aspiration is to see RCV implemented for 2024 and beyond. I strive to see a democracy where candidates can spread messages of unity rather than divisiveness. I strive to see a democracy where everyone is encouraged to run for office and participate. And most importantly, I strive for a democracy that, when I cast my ballot, my voice as a citizen is maximized and I have a choice of who I want to see elected — and ranked-choice voting does just that.

Victor Shi is an Equal Citizens intern.

Equal Citizens