Rinaldo Del Gallo III: Primary case for ranked choice voting

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PITTSFIELD — This November, "ranked choice voting" (RCV) is likely to be put on the ballot as an initiative. (There are a few more hoops to jump through). The RCV initiative won handily in Maine, twice. Unlike the current "plurality" system where you win with just the most votes regardless whether you have a majority (over 50 percent), with ranked choice voting you must win with a majority.

As the name suggests, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. But if no candidate obtains a majority, the candidate that comes in last is eliminated, and the second choices of those that voted for the last place candidate are counted to see if any remaining candidates has a majority yet. It's like having a runoff election, but instantly, hence the alternative name "instant runoff elections."


The train wreck of a Democratic presidential primary in Massachusetts caused by plurality voting is a perfect example of why RCV is a better voting system. Take the 10th debate and the incessant interruptions. At numerous times, three, four, and sometimes five people were speaking at the same time. In the ninth debate, Elizabeth Warren went from the woman with a plan to a hit woman trying to politically assassinate Michael Bloomberg with incessant barbs and castigation. With ranked choice voting there is a strong incentive to not cut up the opposition because you want to be the second choice of those that are inclined to vote for other candidates first.

And then you have the pressure to drop out of the race. With many voters already having cast early ballots, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out at the last second before Super Tuesday to give "fellow centrist" Joe Biden a chance. Hey, you don't want to be a "spoiler" and "divide up the centrist vote" and get "radical" Bernie Sanders elected do you? And then there is the case of Warren who "persisted" to be a "spoiler" and did not drop out like a good progressive should to give Bernie a chance.

With ranked choice voting, candidates would not be pressured to drop out of races for fear they are spoilers, for there are no wasted votes and there is "no spoiler effect." If another candidate obtained a majority, they were going to win anyhow. If nobody gets a majority and your candidate comes in last, your second choice will be counted.

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Finally, we have the Democratic Convention, which might literally turn your vote, and you're campaigning for your favorite candidate, into a mere show with the pretense of a democratic process. In reality, if Sanders doesn't get a clear majority of delegates, "smoke-filled rooms" and deals of party bosses and not voters could determine the Democrat nominee.


If Sanders only has a plurality of regular delegates, the Democratic Party could justifiably claim that Sanders does not have majority consensus support. Under the plurality regime, we have been trained to believe the candidate with the most votes should win regardless if there is majority support, because "it has always been that way." But true democracy is predicated on majority consensus support. If Sanders gets the most regular delegates (I am not including "super-delegates") and does not walk away with the Democratic nomination after a "brokered convention," all hell will break loose. The Democratic Party might even fall apart. There is one strong advantage of ranked choice voting; it always produces a candidate that had the consensus support because it demands a win with a majority.

Improving demeanor, stopping pressure to drop out so as not to be a spoiler, and having a victor that has a clear consensus are all advantages of ranked choice voting. Where I differ with some of those that support RCV is that I believe it must be implemented across the entire voting region of a given race, such as used state-wide for a state-wide office or over an entire congressional district for a seat in Congress. For this reason, I have grave reservations about its use in presidential elections or presidential primaries.

That said, the ballot question you would be likely voting on wisely does not include presidential elections and primaries. Nonetheless, this Democratic primary is a textbook example of all that is wrong with the current plurality system and what's right with ranked choice voting.

The author is a local attorney who is writing in his individual capacity, and not on behalf of any organization.


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