Remorse and Ranked Choice Voting

June, 2018

Washington -- Maine has now approved ranked choice voting (RCV). The RCV victory may have been helped by a strong New York Times editorial in its favor.

Australia and Ireland use this voting method, as do several local governments in the United States. Bills have been introduced in nineteen states to replace winner-take-all elections with ranked choice voting.

The reason I favor RCV is that it deals with often legitimate voter complaints. Many voters feel they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Even if their favorite candidate is on a multi-candidate ballot, in a winner-take-all election voting their actual preference can be a "wasted" vote. Voters often feel manipulated by spoiler candidates who split popular candidates' support, resulting in victories by candidates that most voters actually reject. Many voters stay home because they don't like the choices presented to them, or they think their votes make no difference if their spouses vote differently, cancelling each other out.

Many voters want to "send a message" with their vote, but can't for some or all of these reasons. And if they do vote, their desired message is often misinterpreted or deliberately twisted.

With RCV, each voter is invited to send several clear, unmistakable messages through thoughtful voting. Dislike a candidate intensely? Place that candidate last. Really like a minor candidate and want to send a message of encouragement? Place that candidate first and mark a major candidate you can tolerate second. Dislike candidates who sling mud? Reward those who don't by ranking them higher.

Once more people understand that RCV is message-voting in spades, more states will adopt it. It could also be called no-more-excuses voting.

Now is the time to give RCV* a try. There many voters who are experiencing remorse or even shame at the turn of events resulting from the 2016 national elections. Conservative voters especially sent their messages but did not want or expect outcomes to include trade wars, the breakup of the Western Alliance, cozying up to dictators, and forceably taking children from parents who legally seek asylum. Their excuse for enabling all this? That they had no choice, as it was unthinkable to vote for the other side. Leaving aside the thought that they were duped by Russian manipulation of social media, they have a point. They voted (or chose not to vote) in a system that can produce such outcomes, and it did.

Perhaps these voters will lead the charge for RCV voting. They should.

* RCV has its detractors, and not just those who benefit from the current system of electing by mere pluralities. Some voting experts and mathematicians demonstrate that different ways of counting can result in different RCV outcomes. These almost never happen, however, and hardly outweigh all the RCV advantages. Where RCV has been used, the usual result is higher voter turnout, election of more candidates who can compromise on issues, and encouragement for outsiders who can test their ideas with voters and prevail over time.