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One of the great concepts of the United States is the fundamental theory that every vote counts. As a citizen you go to the voting booth and select your favored representative with the understanding that your support will be counted and have meaning.
But will it?
Due to the two-party nature of our current system, voting for a third party candidate has become synonymous with "throwing away your vote" on the federal level. When you vote for a Green or a Libertarian for president, you understand that with our current structure, there is little or no chance that your vote will go towards their victory and ascension to the White House.
But that is not really what the heart of Democracy is supposed to be. You are supposed to be able to vote for the candidate that you find most suited for office and feel like you've been true to your ideals and values. Being forced to choose "the lesser of two evils" has become a common saying lately in elections, but it doesn't have to be this way.
What if there was a way you could vote for your favored candidate and then rank the others. Your vote would have strong meaning in the overall election because even if your preferred candidate is eliminated your vote would go to your next choice that has a chance to win. This is called Ranked Choice Voting. It is not a new concept and has been implemented in countries around the world, as well as areas of the United States. The examples in the United States are mostly cities like San Francisco, with the majority of elections in a "winner take all" format. That may be changing as for the first time it is going to be implemented at a state level in Maine. What are the benefits of this voting system and what are the pitfalls that keep it from catching on here? Below I will tell you exactly why this method of voting can make our democracy more inclusive and open.
MPR Instant Runoff Explainer
Each Vote Will Count
When I say that, I mean that a person can vote for their preferred candidate and if that candidate falls out of contention for the victory, then that vote will fall to the next highest person on the list and whom is still eligible for victory. What this would allow is the actual representation of how folks voted to be borne out. This is done by each voter ranking their favored candidates, 1 for my favorite and the last number for the person that I'd least like to win. As the race continues and candidates drop out, your left with a situation that takes into account the broad popularity of a candidate. Folks who have singular appeal in the voting block would find themselves hard pressed to get into office. With that being the case, you get a better representation of everyone in a district.
Third Party Candidates Would Become More Viable
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to vote third party and not feel like your vote is wasted? With the current election system, voting for a third party candidate for any sort of federal office is viewed as a "protest vote," as if it is somehow not real. In a ranked choice voting system, you could comfortably vote for a third party candidate and if that person doesn't win, your vote would then eventually trickle to help the person you would like to see win. With a newfound ability to show support for a third party that more closely fits your values, I think the electoral arena would see an influx of good ideas and perhaps finally break the stagnant two party system. If the big two were forced to create coalitions with smaller parties to get any legislation passed, it may allow for more nuance in the political process, giving communities with less representation more power to shift the narrative. It would force cooperation, though it could allow extremist groups representation as well. I think it is much more likely to allow small groups of policy focused individuals more of a voice. This article dives into this reasoning a little bit more.
It Is More Democratic
It is a basic truth that a person's vote would be more likely to count in a ranked choice system. In a winner take all situation, folks whose choice does not win are stuck feeling as if their voice is wasted. In a ranked choice system you would still be able to take comfort in knowing that it may help someone that you liked as a second choice. This would also make folks more likely to vote because it would lend credence to the process and to the fact that each vote can count. Some might shout mob rule, as they did back when the foundations for the current Democratic party were laid, but in the end the people should be allowed to have a say in the direction of the country. Not big money interests, or legacy politicians, but the working folks and those not born with privilege. This voting system will give the people a stronger voice, and one that can be raised without fear of giving up the whole game to the other side. This is a result of the fact that it takes a broad concencus of votes to achieve victory. Divisive, single issue candidates need not apply.
The Maine Experiment
There is only one state in the union that has decided to put this into place statewide. Maine recently enacted ranked choice voting for all elections. There has been major pushback from the Republican governor, but with the use of multiple statewide referendums, his attempts to block implementation have failed. It is also no coincidence that there are almost twice as many Green Party candidates running in Maine as any other state in the U.S. in 2018. The Green party has had ranked choice voting on its official platform for years. We shall see how it goes, because the States are after all the laboratories of democracy. I think Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said it far better:
(A)"state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."
There are flaws in this system. Some folks might argue that whoever gets the most first place votes should win, hands down. There would be situations where the person with the most first place votes loses because they had selective appeal instead of universal appeal. While I can appreciate this argument, I believe that ranked choice voting would end up electing candidates that satisfy a larger portion of the population as opposed to a die-hard group that are in the minority.