Updated: Oct 19, 2021
November 3, 2020 is one of the most important days of the year for Americans. Along with a presidential election during one of the most divided times in American politics, citizens in New York State will also vote on a new voting system change that could set precedent for decades to come and has the potential to influence the way we vote all across the nation. Ranked-choice voting will be on the New York state ballot for the first time this fall.Adopting ranked-choice into our voting system is the most democratic move for America.
As much as “majority rules” has become a catchphrase for our country’s governing system, America’s voting system actually relies on the plurality vote, rather than the majority vote Essentially, in most of our elections, candidates with the highest amount of votes win the seat, even if they don’t have the majority vote, over 50% of the vote.
As proposed by New York, ranked-choice voting is a voting system which allows for voters to rank their first, second, third, fourth, and fifth candidates for a certain elected position. If a candidate receives over 50% of the first choice vote, they will win the seat. However, if no candidate receives the majority vote, the candidate with the least number of first choice votes would be eliminated from the race, and these votes would be redirected to the candidates marked as “second-choice” on the ballot. This process would continue until one candidate won the majority of the votes.
This model is best explained with an example. Let’s say Candidates Adams, Franklin, and Madison were all running for an elected position and 100 people were voting for them. 40 people vote for Candidate Adams, 35 for Candidate Franklin, and 25 for Candidate Madison. In our current system, Candidate Adams would win the seat because they have the most votes (a plurality), even though the majority of the voting population did not want Adams to win. With ranked-choice voting in place, all the votes for Madison (the candidate with the least amount of first-choice votes), would be redirected. Let’s say of the 25 people who listed Madison as their first choice, 5 put Adams as their second choice and 20 put Franklin as their second choice. The second-choice votes would now be added to the first choice votes for Candidates Adams and Franklin, leaving Candidate Adams with 45 votes and Candidate Franklin with 55 votes. Candidate Franklin, now with a majority of the votes would win the election.
Not only does implementing ranked-choice voting reflect the genuine majority, it also serves to close the growing gap between our two major political parties and lessen partisan tensions. Our current system leaves citizens to pick candidates from two giant political parties that seem more and more different every day.
American citizens are essentially left to choose the “lesser of two evils,” instead of candidates with viewpoints and policies they genuinely support. Even if these candidates do exist in third parties, Americans know that voting for them would only result in splitting the vote, or taking votes away from another candidate from one of the major parties. Ranked-choice voting, by the very nature of its structure, would allow Americans to vote their conscience without “taking away votes” from viable candidates, as well as allows for the emergence of third parties in our polarized system.
This new system has already proven successful in states like Maine. Both their June and November 2018 elections used ranked-choice voting in their state-wide primary and Senate and House general elections. In the November election, Jared Golden was declared the winner of Maine’s Congressional House seat as a result of ranked-choice voting. Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin had the plurality vote, with approximately 2000 votes more than Golden. Golden, however, took the lead after third party votes were redesignated, with Golden receiving 50.53% of votes and Poliquin receiving 49.47% of votes. The competition was close, but Golden won the seat with majority of the American vote, rather than just the plurality; more than half of voters would rather have had Golden than Poliquin in the House seat.
Citizens in Maine have shown their support for this system both before and after these elections took place. Still, opposers argue that ranked-choice voting might result in an elected official who no one “truly wanted.” However, the system ensures that citizens only vote for candidates they genuinely support by allowing them to vote for only one candidate if they please; voters can choose to rank between one and five candidates.
With backing from both progressive icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, ranked-choice voting is gaining popularity in New York and across the United States. In November of last year, Yang tweeted, “Ranked choice voting would let us express our true preferences and make our politics more dynamic and responsive” and expressed his support for making this system “the norm throughout the country.”
Ranked-choice voting reflects the opinion of the majority of voting Americans, not just the plurality. This proposal on the New York ballot at the end of this year is only the first step. Progressive Democrats, especially, agree that ranked-choice voting is the most “democratic” approach to elections all over the country and hope it continues to grow in popularity. New York State should adopt ranked-choice voting come November, and the rest of America should follow suit in order to promote true democracy and preserve the voice of the American people.