Ammon Gruwell: The time for ranked-choice voting has come
Ballots are prepared to be tabulated for Maine's Second Congressional District's House election Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Augusta, Maine. The election is the first congressional race in American history to be decided by the ranked-choice voting method that allows second choices. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
On any given day, you can log into Twitter and read about the latest public figure who did something that the residents of the twitterverse found distasteful. To show their disapproval, people tweet with the hashtag #[insert-name]IsOverParty, and with that, I suppose, the public figure’s career is over, or at least it’s not trendy to like them anymore.
Well, this isn’t Twitter, and I won’t be calling out any public figures, but I’d like to explain why, for a number of good reasons, plurality voting is over.
For those unfamiliar with the term “Plurality Voting,” it is the age-old practice of allowing each voter to choose one candidate for each race on their ballot, and the candidate who garners the most votes wins. The problems with this voting system are extensive, but I will focus on two here.
First, in a multi-person race, the winner often wins with significantly less than a majority of votes. For example, in 2018, three hotly-contested U.S. House races were won with only 22% of the vote
. This leads to voter dissatisfaction and often polarizing winners.
Second, the spoiler effect motivates people to vote for the lesser of two evils, instead of the candidate that they like the most. Although voters have been forced to make such hold-your-nose votes for decades, many Utahns felt that the 2016 U.S. presidential rlection was the ultimate choice between the lesser of two evils, with two deeply polarizing and unpopular candidates as the only two viable choices.
Utah has made strides in the last decade toward improvements in our voting system. For example, Utah’s transition to mail-in ballots has improved voter participation
and has proven opportune in this age of social distancing. However, one problem with mail-in ballots was showcased in the recent Democratic presidential primary
in which several candidates dropped out at the last minute, causing thousands of early votes cast for these candidates to be essentially wasted.
There is an easy solution to these problems. It’s called ranked-choice voting. This system, also called instant runoff voting, simply allows voters to rank the candidates from first to last. Initially, only the first choice of each voter is counted and, if a candidate garners at least 50% of the first-choice votes, he/she is declared the winner. If no candidate reaches this threshold, the “instant runoff” begins by eliminating the candidate with the fewest voters’ first-choice votes. The second choice of these voters is then counted, and the runoff repeats until a candidate wins by reaching a true majority of support.
This system has been around for a long time, and is currently used to varying degrees in about half of U.S. states
. It improves voter satisfaction
by ensuring that the winner gets a majority of votes. It removes the spoiler effect and the need for costly runoff elections
by automatically reallocating votes cast for unsuccessful candidates to the voters’ second or third choices. Finally, it makes a perfect complement to mail-in ballots and/or early voting by redistributing votes cast for candidates who drop out before election day.
The Utah Legislature did recently approve a municipal RCV pilot program, but sadly it was only implemented by two Utah cities (Vineyard and Payson), with further implementation pushed out to 2026
. We need this system now, and the Utah Republican Party’s use of it for their state convention last week illustrates that state leaders already know and trust this system.
We have needed ranked-choice voting for a long time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the need more apparent and urgent than ever. For these reasons, I ask Utahns to learn more about this system and encourage your legislators to give voters more choice in Utah elections. The time is now for a Plurality-Voting-Is-Over Party, and you are invited.
Ammon Gruwell, Layton, is an electrical engineer and the United Utah Party candidate for the Utah House of Representatives from District 15 (Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse).