It’s rare when we get our first choice in life. Sometimes, there’s a second or third option that we’d be ok with. But when it comes to voting, we only get a yes/no option.
Ranked choice voting, otherwise known as instant runoff voting, changes all that.
Tomorrow, most voters in New York will head to the polls for their primaries. (Click HERE if you are a voter in New York.) One of the biggest races everyone is watching is for Mayor of New York. And this year, the ballot will use ranked choice voting to determine who wins the primary.
How does ranked choice voting work?
Say a friend calls and says they’re going to bring over some ice cream and asks what flavor you want. One might say, “I’d love mint chip, but if they don’t have that, then maybe Rocky Road, and if they don’t have that, plain chocolate.” You might not get your first choice, but you have other flavors you’d be fine with.
So imagine a primary election where there are 13 candidates running for mayor. In this scenario, it’s extremely unlikely that any one candidate gets over 50% of the vote. And the goal is to have the candidate who gets a majority of the votes win.
So voters get their ballot and what they’ll do is instead of voting for just their favorite candidate, they’ll rank the candidates. The one they like best gets #1, the one they like next best gets #2, and so forth. If there’s a candidate they really dislike, they don’t have to rank them at all. So the ballot might look something like this:
Then, when the election is over, the votes get tallied. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes (over 50%) outright, what they do is eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes. Then they look at who the voters who voted for that eliminated candidate and who they chose for their 2nd choice; then those votes are added to the remaining candidates. They repeat this process until one candidate gets over 50% of the vote.
What are the advantages of ranked choice voting?
There’s some early evidence that ranked choice voting may reduce negative campaigning from candidates. Why? Well, with a large field running, candidates can’t just count on their base to give them a plurality. They will need to appeal to a much wider swath of voters to scoop up as many #2 and #3 choices as possible to get to the necessary 50%.
Additionally, ranked choice voting can be cheaper as it eliminates the need to hold runoff elections. The League of Women Voters has a longer list of advantages HERE.
As for me, I think it makes a lot of sense. I also gravitate towards solutions that are very positive, and instead of thinking about the one and only candidate who will get my vote, I very much like the idea of thinking about all the candidates that I would be willing to have in the role.
If you’re in New York, I’d love to hear if you think this campaign was less negative than previous ones!
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Oh, interesting. I didn’t realize New York was doing that this election. I really like ranked choice voting–would love for it to get adopted in more elections. Although I think our chances of ever getting a ranked choice presidential election are, unfortunately, slim…we can’t even get rid of the electoral college!