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Ranked-choice voting would avert many of the election dilemmas seen this year

REUTERS/Darren Hauck
It’s past time for our voting system to evolve.

There’s a rift, at this moment, in the Democratic party. The hope of nearly everyone wanting to defeat Donald Trump in November is that it’s a temporary rift.

Jeanne Massey

But it never needed to happen at all.

Today pundits are speculating where legions of fired-up Bernie Sanders supporters will go now that Hillary Clinton has clinched the nomination. They should recognize that this has been, from the outset, more of a three- or four-party race – crammed into a system that, despite the 2016 electorate’s political diversity, only acknowledges two parties.

It’s past time for that system to evolve. Bernie Sanders is a progressive independent – and under a more sensible electoral system, ranked-choice voting, he would likely have run as such. Not as a Democrat.

It’s telling that in nearly every state that’s held a primary or caucus so far, exit polls show Clinton with a substantial lead among voters who self-identify as Democrats. Most of Sanders’ strength throughout the nominating contest has come from new, young or independent voters, many of whom feel disenfranchised by the current system and frustrated by a lack of real political choice. Democratic party loyalty is not necessarily a value they – or Sanders – cherish.

Sanders felt compelled to run as a Democrat because that’s what he realistically needed to do to have a viable shot at the presidency. The way things stand today, debate slots and media coverage are reserved for Democrats and Republicans. Try running as an independent, or a Green, or a Libertarian under our present system — and prepare to be vilified as a “spoiler.” At best, your candidacy will be inconsequential; at worst, you’ll be blamed for major unintended consequences (see Ralph Nader in the 2000 election or Ross Perot in the 1992 election).

A recent Gallup poll showed that as many as 43 percent of Americans decline to affiliate with either of the two “major parties.” Who’s representing their interests?

Whether or not you agree with his positions, Sanders did an admirable job – in a time of unprecedented voter cynicism and alienation – of galvanizing idealistic young voters whose energy has brought new life to our ailing democracy. If they disengage now, that’s a huge loss – for the election in November, and for our democracy in the longer haul.

And needless to say, our democracy is in danger if Anyone-But-Trump voters stay home on Election Day. Voters on both sides are feeling turned off by major party candidates who don’t represent their values.   

It’s too late for a do-over on this presidential race. But we can build a more inclusive political system, one that embraces principled voters across the ideological spectrum. Ranked-choice voting – which allows all candidates to run without fear of spoiler dynamics and produces winners with broad consensus support – is the place to start.

Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota.

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Comments (16)

Inclusion

Ranked Choice Voting is a solution in search of a problem. For the author here, the problem is lack of inclusiveness. Yet there seems little that is inherently exclusive about our presidential election process today. The Republicans had 17 candidates initially. My party, the Democratic Party had only three or four, but that had a lot more to do with our weakness as a national party than the existence of barriers to inclusion. There is a lot wrong with our presidential election system but exclusiveness is not one of them.

I think the problem here which this version of RCV isn't quite addressing isn't the exclusiveness of elections, it's the exclusiveness of who we elect. At the presidential level, this problem can't be solved. No matter what electoral system we choose, under our system of government only one president can be elected and everyone else gets to go home. What I think bugs like Ms. Massey is the winner take all aspect of elections where other systems of government can achieve more diverse election results. Basically, instead of choosing a winner take all system for legislative races, we could have a system of proportional representation which allows voting blocs to be represented even when they don't have plurality of the vote. Proportional representation systems are very common among other democracies, particularly the newer ones who have had the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. However, the problem here is that when all is said and done, RCV doesn't really cure, that problem because it doesn't address the winner take all aspect of the system. Just as there is one winner of the presidency, there is only one winner of legislative or council seats, and that is something RCV doesn't change.

Please go away

People have caught on to the fact that Ranked Choice Voting is, what Mr. Foster charitably calls, a "solution in search of a problem."

In 2015 Duluth voters overwhelmingly rejected adopting Ranked Choice Voting, with 75 percent of voters saying no.

In 2013, the false claim that Ranked Choice Voting produces majority winners was exposed when Minneapolis elected Betsy Hodges with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Here in St. Paul, we only have Ranked Choice Voting because - in one of the greatest ironies ever - the pro-RCV group called the "Better Ballot Campaign" knowingly made false claims and was fined $5,000.

http://www.twincities.com/2009/12/01/st-paul-group-that-backed-instant-r...

We need RCV across the board

The status quo is inclusive? No, not for the majority of people who have a complex and nuanced view of policy that exceeds the bounds of a GOP or DFL platform.

The status quo reinforces the worst traits of our implementation of representative democracy... voting based on fear and the minimization of something we dislike, rather than hope and the propagation of ideas we actually like.

Also, Mayor Hodges did win with a supermajority of over 60% of non-exhausted votes in the 33rd round of balloting.

We need RCV up and down every ballot in the U.S.

Non-exhausted ballots

Hodges received less than 50 percent of the vote of the valid ballots cast. RCV advocates try to claim a majority by discarding the exhausted ballots - valid ballots where the voters just happened to vote for the wrong candidate or candidates. In other words, RCV achieves its "majorities" by disenfranchising voters.

Again, as evidenced by the Duluth results, people have gotten wise to these dishonest and offensive (as it pertains to disenfranchising voters) arguments.

No, not for the majority of

No, not for the majority of people who have a complex and nuanced view of policy that exceeds the bounds of a GOP or DFL platform.

One problem is that Democrats are more likely to have complex and nuanced views than Republicans. And what that means is that changing the rules to favor complexity and nuance tends to favor the Democratic Party at the expense of the Republican Party.

There is much more support for RCV among Democrats than there is among Republicans. As part of any exploration of the merits of the issue, people should figure out why that is.

" voting based on fear and the minimization of something we dislike, rather than hope and the propagation of ideas we actually like."

Basically, RCV makes it more difficult to vote negatively, to vote against rather than for something. Why is that inherently wrong? Is there some reason why positive voters should be favored over negative voters?

Policy

Also, Mayor Hodges did win with a supermajority of over 60% of non-exhausted votes in the 33rd round of balloting.

For me, Minneapolis' greatest monument to RCV is the downtown Vikings Stadium. Putting the merits aside for a moment, the fact is RCV made it very difficult to vote against the candidates who supported the stadium. So despite the fact that most Minneapolis voters were against the stadium, and the stadium itself could never have survived an up and down vote, the system of voting in Minneapolis made it impossible to express that negative view effectively with their votes. Hence the stadium.

Non-exhausted votes

Do you know what "exhausted votes" means? It means people who cast valid ballots but did not vote for either the first (Betsy Hodges) or second place (Mark Andrew) finishers.

There were 79,415 valid ballots cast.

38,870 were for Hodges (48.95 percent)

24,972 were for Andrew (31.44 percent)

15,573 (19.61 percent) did not vote for either Hodges or Andrew.

The only way Hodges had a majority (or a supermajority) is by declaring that the votes of the 15,573 people who voted for neither Hodges nor Andrew don't count. Their votes are nullified - even though they cast valid ballots - simply because they voted for the wrong people.

Why can't I apply the same logic in traditional elections? In the 2010 governor's race, Mark Dayton received 43.63 percent of the vote, while Tom Emmer received 43.21 percent. 13.16 percent of voters chose neither candidate. If you throw out the votes of everyone who did not vote for Dayton or Emmer, then Dayton was also a majority winner. In both cases, you solve the non-majority "problem" by throwing out the valid votes of people who didn't vote for the right people.

One of the selling points of Ranked Choice voting is that it eliminates non-majority winners. But unless you are willing to disenfranchise voters who show up and cast valid ballots, that selling point is false. 15,573 Minneapolis residents went to the polls and filled out their ballot correctly. If I was one of them (I live in St. Paul), I would be pretty angry to find out that my vote didn't count because I voted for the wrong person.

Rig & Rank?

Could I win by getting all voters to make me their #2 choice (even #3)? As I did mention awhile ago, there's got to be a way to rig this, or else we wouldn't be getting the push.
(Has Trump weighed in on this "Chinese" menu concept?)

You guys appear to know much more about RCV than I, so please explain the motivation for this push. Please remember, I generally focus on ulterior motives in anything political, in other words, "complex and nuanced views," as Mr. F. puts it.

"You guys appear to know much

"You guys appear to know much more about RCV than I, so please explain the motivation for this push."

The motivation is to reduce political polarization and reduce the power that the Republican/Democrat duopoly holds.

Under an improved voting system like RCV, Democrats and Republicans would probably still win, but the ones that did would be more centrist and more reasonable, and they'd have to appeal to a wider electorate to keep themselves ahead of third parties.

Motivation

I, so please explain the motivation for this push.

It has been my suspicion, one that I don't have a lot of evidence for, that the motivation is the frustration Democrats had from losing gubernatorial elections to Tim Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura. the winning candidates in those elections won with pluralities considerably less than a majority, and there may have been a feeling among many that we could have won, had we been able to craft an election process which would pit the Democrat against the Republican on a one on one basis. This theory, by the way, is supported by the fact that while RCV has wide popularity among Democrats, it is an absolute non starter with Republicans.

Suspicion? Here are facts

Your suspicion is groundless and factless. The work to bring RCV and other, better election methods to Minnesota began at least as far back as 1996. OTO, those Governors were elected in 1998 and 2002.

And the people working on better election methods come from all political stripes, not just DFL. That includes Republicans.

The motivation includes getting rid of:

- expensive primary elections, where turnout is extremely
- people thinking they have to make lesser-of-two-evils choices, i.e., letting them vote sincerely
- minority winners (e.g., 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 Governor), where a majority voted against the winner

to name a few factors.

Please explain

"other, better election methods..." What else is not so good about current methods? Seems to me a Party controls its measures and methods. If it doesn't want much of a primary, it suppresses opposition from the inside. We all should know by now how that works.

Don't quite understand why a winner needs 50+%. Seems more than any other candidate is simply that, regardless of %, and promotes a system of more than two very good candidates. I understand the Party preference for minimizing the process, but not the apparent marginalization of candidates not endorsed by the Big Two.

What else is not so good

What else is not so good about current methods?

To begin with, the burden of proof here is on the side advocating change. The status quo works after a fashion, and is pretty simple and easy to understand. In our political culture, the way we conduct our elections is about the only thing left that works. And in my view, I think the assumption it reflects, that the winner takes all, actually tends to reflect the way the voters think, which is a pretty good goal for an election system. This notion that somehow we all walk around with some sort of mental ranking system for political candidates smacks to me of academic political science unreality. Real people just don't think that way.

Don't quite understand why a winner needs 50+%.

It really depends a lot on whose ox gets gored. I personally have no objection to plurality winners just as long as it's my guy who has the plurality. What RCV supporters have a problem with is that sooner or later, by some process or another, all the oxen get gored by someone.

Grounds and facts

Let's start with your motivation list:

Ranked Choice Voting does eliminate the cost of primary elections by eliminating them, but it does not save money. Minneapolis's election went way over budget, largely due to the hand-counting required afterwards. At some point there will be voting machines that can do this, but that will also come at a significant cost. Saving money may be a motivation for some people, but it is a motivation that is truly groundless.

http://www.startribune.com/with-35-candidates-mpls-mayoral-election-cost...

My other comments have addressed the minority winner issue. Put simply, Ranked Choice Voting does not solve the "problem" of minority winners. This motivation is also groundless.

The third motivation cannot be shown to be objectively groundless, but it still shouldn't carry much weight. Elections are for electing people, not for making voters feel good about their conscience.

On to the facts:

One fact I would add is that Mr. Bearman is on the Board of Directors of Fairvote Minnesota, the group that pushes Ranked Choice Voting.

http://fairvotemn.org/board

If you are wondering about the real motivations for the push to Ranked choice voting, Fairvote has been the recipient of public money for voter education about Ranked Choice Voting.

http://fairvotemn.org/node/1863

A number of municipalities that adopted Ranked Choice voting have subsequently repealed it, including Pierce county (Tacoma) Washington, and Burlington, Vermont, which is the home town of Bernie Sanders. As last fall's overwhelming defeat in Duluth showed, people have figured out that Ranked Choice Voting is bad for democracy.

"Your suspicion is groundless

"Your suspicion is groundless and factless. The work to bring RCV and other, better election methods to Minnesota began at least as far back as 1996. OTO, those Governors were elected in 1998 and 2002."

Do you really believe there would be support among Democrats for ranked choice voting if Democrats had been elected governor in 1998 or 2002? Speaking as a Democrat myself, I find it hard to imagine wanting to change a system under which my candidates had been successful.

"And the people working on better election methods come from all political stripes, not just DFL. That includes Republicans."

Were there any Republicans in the legislature in 2003 who favored RCV. Are they any Republicans in the legislature today who favor RCV?

"expensive primary elections, where turnout is extremely"

Isn't the point of elections to win them? Not to conduct them cheaply, or generate turnout?

"- people thinking they have to make lesser-of-two-evils choices, i.e., letting them vote sincerely"

Are lesser of multiple evil elections intrinsically better than lesser of two evil choices? For myself, the sincerity with which I vote is unrelated to the number of candidates on the ballot.

"- minority winners (e.g., 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 Governor), where a majority voted against the winner"

Assuming minority winners is a problem, it isn't corrected by rigging the voting system to create an artificial majority. If majority sentiment doesn't already exist in the electorate, no conceivable process solution can create one.

Appreciate your fair persistence here...

A rational voice is often a rare breath of fresh fact. Thank you.

I'm still slowly shaking my head at anyone's position that winning with less than 50% is in some way less valid than winning with 51%. If HRC should beat Trump with 49%, she beats Trump and all others on the ballot. She wins. To suggest her term will be illegitimate because she didn't reach 50+% would be totally dopey. Many would continue to question here legitimacy, but not on those grounds.

While RCV may be a big deal to some here, I'm far more troubled by significant character flaws of both HRC and Trump, making this a "Rank Choice" contest in my view. I never feel good when casting a ballot for the lesser of two anythings. And, that's the reason I stopped being any kind of Party animal many years ago.

[Weekend Note: It appears the Romney/Ryan crowd is more serious this Monday in forming a splinter campaign, perhaps as the New Utes, or something.]