News

Op-Educationals: Ranked Choice Voting

In an effort to continually center the youth voice, AGF is starting a blog series titled Op-Educationals. The series will explore various issues written to educate the reader while offering the general opinion and perspective of young people on each topic. Stay tuned for our next Op-Educationals blog installment on SCOTUS term limits.

Ranked choice voting is a method of determining the winning candidate by allowing voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference instead of choosing just one. Ballots that do not help voters’ top choices win count for their next choice. Ballots that don’t help the top choice of the voters win then count for their next choice, and the process continues this way until one winner is determined. If adopted, ranked choice voting would drastically change the way voters approach elections as a whole. (Need a visual? Check out this helpful video.)

There are two main forms of ranked choice voting (RCV) in the U.S. One is called single-winner RCV, often used to select a consensus candidate with support from the most voters. The other is proportional RCV, used to fill a set number of seats on a legislative body proportional to the electorate, the number of eligible voters. RCV is also commonly referred to as instant runoff voting (IRV), and RCV has already been adopted in over 60 jurisdictions, with more adopting it each election cycle in places like Alaska, Maine, Virgin Islands, New York City, Cambridge, MA (Boston to join soon), Minneapolis, MN, and San Francisco, CA. 

In theory, RCV would make our elections better by allowing room for more than two candidates to gain a significant percentage of the vote. With the current two-party system stuck in patterns of populist candidates on both sides of the aisle determining our nation’s two presidential choices every four years, RCV would not change much– but that is exactly why we need to adopt it nationwide. The GOP and DNC leave little room for third-party candidates, or simply just a third-candidate option, to garner any long-lasting support. For RCV to improve our democratic process, the duopoly the GOP and DNC hold on our elections would need to be dismantled. 

Once dismantled and RCV is adopted, voters can make ballot decisions based not on party affiliation but on each candidate’s skills, experience, and campaign promises. Apathy among voters is a worsening issue contributing to low turnout rates and a collective sense of frustration with both our government and the entire democratic process. Many no longer feel as though voting can make a real impact due to the electoral college and popular vote conundrum coupled with widespread voter suppression, all while our leaders are engaged in overseas conflicts many tax-paying voters would prefer not to fund. Even before this work, I’ve heard time and time again how folks feel they already know what the election outcome for their city or state will be, so voting feels like a waste of time. 

If George Washington recognized how disagreements among political parties weakened the government in 1796, why can’t we do the same in 2024? Eliminating the two-party system’s chokehold and adopting RCV would greatly reduce the apathy voters feel about the democratic process today. When each of your preferences is taken into account while selecting a candidate, you may feel more confident the candidate will truly represent you and be someone you support, broadly or wholeheartedly. Ranking candidates this way allows voters to recognize the complexity of the issues we face as a nation and to be able to look at them from a more collaborative perspective- asking ourselves, What would work best for all of us?, rather than What would work best for my party or self? 

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done before adopting RCV nationwide. Even so, the time is now to begin having conversations, proposing plans for RCV adoption in local jurisdictions, and spreading awareness of the potential it has to alter the way we perceive and process elections in the U.S. for the better. RCV is currently being used in the 2024 Primary Elections. Let this year be a starting point for imagining a future for our democracy without hyper-polarization or folks feeling like their vote doesn’t count. To learn more about ranked choice voting, visit FairVote.org or the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center. For more educational opinion pieces like this, stay tuned for more from our new Op-Educationals blog series.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications surrounding their work. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.