A dozen years ago, my sister called me while I was in class to tell me that a “Nirvana guy” was speaking at Grays Harbor College and that she was going to pick me up. “What is he speaking about?” I asked. She had no idea. Some political thing.
Of course I went regardless, because I was a big-time Nirvana fan, but since I was also a big-time politics fan, I found myself becoming legitimately interested in the topic discussed: ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as “instant-runoff voting.”
That was the only time I’d ever heard the term up until two or three years ago, when the conversation around RCV began popping up much more frequently, likely spurred by the popular vote/electoral college debate/uproar after the 2016 election.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang was a vocal proponent of switching to RCV, and earlier this month the New York Times printed an article called, “Why Ranked-Choice Voting Is Having a Moment.”
In fact, some states have already made the jump. Maine adopted RCV in 2016; voters in Alaska, Kansas, Hawaii and Wyoming will all rely on RCV to determine their Democratic presidential nominee this year; and New York City will use the system to determine mayoral and city council elections in 2021.
FairVote Washington is our state’s proponent group (they actually have an event in Vancouver on Feb 19). They are very active and often hold events where attendees use ranked choice voting for things like beer and chocolate. Now that’s a winning strategy.
So what exactly is RCV?
Simply put, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. If your first-choice candidate doesn’t win, your second-choice candidate gets your vote instead.
Many of the pros here are obvious: more choices for voters; fewer people voting against candidates; voting for a less-than-mainstream candidate would no longer be seen as a “throwaway vote”; there wouldn’t be an issue of in-party vote splitting (such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders); and RCV would very likely reduce negative campaigning.
As with anything, there are some cons. First, people don’t like change. This alone could result in voter confusion and/or lower turnout. Second, having too many candidates could complicate (and dilute) the votes, potentially ending in the election of someone who is no one’s favorite candidate.
And finally, I’m sure someone, somewhere will figure out how to game the system in a way that no one is even thinking of right now.
After the 2016 election, many people wanted to move to a straight-up popular vote electoral system, which makes me nervous. It’s a non-strategic, oversimplification of something extremely complicated. Is RCV the answer? Maybe. But either way, people need to look at all of the solutions on the table in order to make any sort of change to a system that they see as broken.
North Pacific County resident Allie Bair is a columnist for the Chinook Observer.