What Is Rank Choice Voting?

Rank Choice Voting is being pushed by a number of liberal organizations as the best way to hold elections. They claim that the current system of holding elections where runoff elections are held between the top two vote-getters if no one gets a majority on the initial vote. Let’s call this the “traditional election process”. Liberals contend this is a costly process and often the runoff election is not between the two vote-getters who have the highest support. Another argument that they make is that often local elections do not attract many people and they contend that “Rank Choice Voting” gets more people involved.

What is “Rank Choice Voting” or what some call “Instant Runoff Elections”. It lets voters literally rank their choices in order of preference, marking candidates as their first, second, and third choice picks (and so on). The winner must have a majority (more than 50% of the votes) rather than a plurality (simply the most votes). In some states, ranked-choice only takes effect when three or more candidates are on the ballot. Voting is counted by round, with the lowest-ranked candidates eliminated in each round until only two candidates remain or one of the candidates has more than 50% of the votes.

A voter only needs to mark a first choice or as many as they want. But a voter can only put one candidate first, or second, and so on. If you choose two candidates for your first choice, it counts as an overvote and your vote will not count, “since your intent for your first choice cannot be determined.” Advocates say it helps prevent spoiler candidates — and ensures the candidate with the most support wins, rather than one who emerges from a crowded field with a small plurality of votes. It can be especially helpful in crowded primaries or elections where margins of victory are very small, ensuring the candidate has the support of the majority, rather than a small plurality.
At least 18 municipalities across the country, including mayor and city council elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and the mayor, city council, and city auditor elections in Berkeley, California, according to a tally by FairVote.org, a group advocating for ranked-choice voting in the US. New York City is poised to use it in all city primary and special elections starting in 2021. Two California governors have vetoed measures that would have given cities and towns across the state the option of using ranked-choice voting. It was already in use by San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill in 2016, calling it “overly complicated and confusing. I believe it deprives voters of genuinely informed choice.” In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued another veto for a measure that would have allowed ranked-choice voting to be used in local elections, echoing the concern that it adds to voter confusion. “The state would benefit from learning more from charter cities who use ranked-choice voting before broadly expanding the system,” Newsom wrote in the veto message.
In 2020, two more cities in Minnesota (Minnetonka and Bloomington) passed “Rank Choice Voting” as a method to use in local elections. The City of Plymouth City Council in 2021 voted to table discussions on using “Rank Choice Voting” because they voted for their city officials in even years and “Rank Choice Voting” usually is done during off-year elections.
Why is Rank Choice Voting usually done during off-year elections? One of the main reasons Rank Choice Voting is passed is because its supporters indicate that it tends to bring more people out in elections than the traditional method. However, they fail to tell you that the main reason that this is true is that more people run when Rank Choice Voting is used. For example, in the 2013 Minneapolis Mayor election, there were 35 people who decided to run. Voters were asked to rank their top 3 choices. The lowest vote-getter in each round (there were 34 rounds) was eliminated and the winner after 34 rounds was Betsy Hodges with 48.95% of the vote. In this case, Betsy Hodges was elected with less than a majority of the vote, and over 20% of the voters didn’t vote for either of these candidates in their top 3 choices.
In the 2021 Minnesota Legislative sessions, both the Senate and the House Democrats introduced bills to allow all cities in Minnesota to introduce Rank Choice Voting as a voting mechanism to use in local, state, and national elections.
Here is a simple video that explains Rank Choice Voting:
Download Proposed Minnesota House H.F. No. 89 Bill
Download Proposed Minnesota Senate S.F. No. 218 Bill

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