Essay: What Even Is Ranked-Choice Voting?

Megan Walsh | The Phoenix

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Imagine if you could rank the candidates on a ballot the way you rank your favorite movies. Ranking them in order from favorite to least favorite — knowing if your top choice doesn’t win, your vote still goes to someone you like. Well, there’s actually a voting system that does this called ranked choice voting. For the next election, Americans should try ranked-choice voting (RCV) as a new way to submit our ballots.

At an Oct. 17 protest,  I saw a man with a poster strapped around him handing out pamphlets advertising and promoting RCV for Illinois. It was brought up again in a Loyola Phoenix meeting, and I was asked to write about it. At the time, I had no clue what ranked-choice voting was. 

According to FairVote — a non-partisan organization advocating a change in the way people vote the way people vote — RCV involves ranking the people on your ballot similar to the way you’d rank your favorite movies with a first choice, second choice and so on. If there’s no clear winner, whoever has the least amount of votes then is taken off the ballot and anyone who voted them as their number one has their votes put into their second choice.

Voting this way prevents “spoiler candidates” — a non-winning candidate on the ballot who, just by being on the ballot, affects who wins — according to National Public Radio (NPR). This allows the candidate who has the greatest support of the people to win. RCV helps in elections when the margin of victory is smaller because it shows that the winner wins by majority and not by a small plurality.

While this is my first year voting, I’ve always assumed first-past-post voting — where voters submit one vote for the candidate of their choice and whoever receives the most votes wins — was the standard. I had never heard of the ranked-choice voting system and was curious, wondering the question “could this help solve some of the problems plaguing the way we vote?” 

Maine is using ranked-choice voting for the first time this year and will be the first state to attempt to use this method. New York City, as well as 17 other cities, started using this method in 2019. Internationally, this method of voting is used in places such as Ireland, New Zealand and Scotland.

RCV seems to be the next effective way of ensuring whoever wins the popular vote wins the election. If utilized, this could be a new way to slowly diminish the controversial Electoral College — where each state gets a number of votes and the candidate to win 270 votes from the states first wins. 

The current system of electing the president has seen intense criticism in recent years, causing voters to feel as if their vote doesn’t really matter. RCV is another way to also ensure that every voice is heard.

Some people may be concerned with RCV because it’s a new method. Some may argue changing a system that has worked for so long would change the amount of people willing to vote in the election. The current way we vote is intuitive, but by no means the best way. Some won’t want to learn a whole new way of voting. Should RCV gain popularity, voter education would need to include how to work the ballot.

RCV is not yet a part of Illinois’ voting system, but Fair Vote is advocating RCV be enacted in Illinois.

The way that we vote is old and outdated. It ensures there will be a two-party system until we update the way that we do elections. The two-party system is overrated and people are tired of it, and RCV is the way out. 

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