Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ranked Choice Voting Better than Montana Primary

by Erne Lewis

When the political parties sued to get rid of the blanket primary in Washington State, their purpose was to allow the party members of each party to choose the candidate who would represent their political philosophies—an obvious freedom of association claim. The court agreed but the solution given to us by the legislature and the Governor certainly doesn’t meet that standard and it is arguably far worse. In place of the blanket primary we now have the complicated and expensive Montana primary system.

Voters in Pierce County receive a single consolidated ballot that includes all races and measures up for consideration. However, for partisan votes to count, a voter must affiliate with a political party by checking a box at the top of the ballot after which they must only vote for candidates who also affiliate with that political party. (Those candidates may actually not be members of that party). Crossing over and voting for candidates of another political party will result in the loss of all partisan votes. As with the blanket primary, party members have lost control of who represents their party. The cynical use of the Montana primary to replace the blanket primary system confirms for many voters—myself included—that they vote in elections controlled by politicians to keep themselves in office.

Across the United States as well as in Pierce County, voters usually explain after an election that they voted for the lesser of two evils; they believe that if they vote for the person they really want, their vote won’t count. So they vote for the least-bad candidate, or they don’t vote at all.

Ranked Choice Voting does away with that problem while increasing political participation. But it has another very important advantage. It removes the need and cost of the primary.

In the Ranked Choice Voting System each voter, without regard to who might win, ranks in preference from among all the candidates their first choice, then their second choice, and third choice, and so on including the least-bad candidate that they would have felt obligated to chose under the present system.

When the votes are counted—assuming there were several candidates—if someone doesn’t win more than 50% of the first choice votes then the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated and the votes are counted again, this time including the second choice votes of the voters who voted for the eliminated candidate. That process is repeated until a candidate has won more than 50% of the votes.

The winner will be first choice for many and second choice for others and perhaps third or even fourth choice for a lot of voters. But that winner will be someone who can truly say he has the most support and the most genuine support of all the candidates who ran.

I believe RCV will soon be used in most elections to avoid the cost and poor results produced by the present primary system. Ranked Choice Voting would offer Pierce County voters an opportunity that other Washington voters do not presently have. We should take advantage of this opportunity.


At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Ranked Choice Voting would be a great innovation for Pierce County to adopt. This would give the state an working example of how well it would function and might change our entire state eventually. My concern is about the reliance on computerized voting machines to make this practical in terms of counting votes. A machine must have a verified paper record for recounts.

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instant Runoff Voting is a derivative of the election system known as Single Transferable Vote (STV). It’s also known as the Hare-Clark system. STV proportionally elects seats in multi-member constituencies. IRV is for single seat elections. Both IRV and STV can be considered Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

RCV was used in Adelaide Australia in 1840. It’s still used today in Australia and Ireland. Ireland has used it since the 1920’s. My point is that RCV has been in use more than a century before the invention of the DRE machines that so many rightfully distrust. In other words RCV ballots can be hand counted.

RCV is legal and is used in the US today. It has a long and rich history in our nation. Katheen L. Barber is a good source regarding RCV in Ohio.

Also check out

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ranked Choice Voting is fine for conducting a General Election. It should not be suggested as an alternative Primary system. We should skip a Primary, let each party select their own candidates and then have just one publically funded General Election.

At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eliminating the primary would save money. Perhaps we should consider that option.

If we left the selection of candidates with party labels to the parties, what options would they choose?

1) Anyone who wants to sign up as a Democrat or Republican?
2) Any candidate endorsed by a nominating convention?
3) Any candidate receiving the endorsement of the County Chair?
4) Any candidate receiving the endorsement of 15% of the precinct committee officers?

There are many options avaiable to the parties. I wonder which one they would choose.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Lee said...

The real advantage of Ranked Voting systems is to multiply voter power by counting more voters when deciding public policy.

This improvement does not require ending partisan primaries. A lot of people like partisan primaries, and I doubt that it is politically feasible to end them.

Voters will be most empowered by modernizing primaries to use ranked voting/IRV, and separately use IRV for general elections.

The hope of ending primaries is mostly a distraction from the greatest benefits from IRV: Ending polarized hostile politics.
With IRV, politicians are motivated to favor broad coalitions with moderate issues instead of norrowly polarized pluralities like experienced with the old system.

With the recent polarized election nightmare safely behind us, at least until the next election, the idea of more peaceful politics should be clear.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as voters are concerned it is very feasable to end partisan primaries. Over 59% rejected partisan primaries when they voted for I-872 in 2004. I don’t know how I-872 did in Pierce County.

With RCV, major parties could nominate multiple candidates at their own conventions. By offering multiple candidates, a party can attract a wider swath of potential supporters. Disbursement issues are negated because party members, along with the voters at large who adhere to the values of that party, could rank those nominees as respective first and second or even third choices.

At the same time, voters inclined towards independent or minor party candidates would pick from the larger mixed pool.

The popular dynamic of the Blanket Primary is voters could jump around from different parties in each respective race. RCV not only preserves this, it is enhanced as voters could freely rank multiple candidates regardless of party affiliation – in the same race!

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Lee said...

Voters presumably vote for open primaries to increase voter power, not to end primaries.
Did they vote to end parties or primaries?

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I-872 didn’t propose to end primaries nor end parties.

I believe voters passed I-872 because it was closer to the popular Blanket Primary of late.

You’re right that they voted to increase voter power in the primary.


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