The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Ranked choice voting is the right choice for democracy

3 min read

Caption: Maine used a rank choice system for the first time in its 2020 presidential election. | Tiffany Tertipes/@tiffanytertipes on unsplash


Staff Writer

 A main function of elections is to hold representatives accountable. When races are stagnant or positions are often left unopposed, those in power no longer have to work for our vote. They may act on their own interests, or do nothing at all, at the expense of their constituents, voter or non-voter. 

This is often a fault in a single choice, winner-takes-all race, the most common voting structure. Under this system, the  candidate with the most votes wins, not necessarily the majority of votes. This may lead to a complacent democracy with a dispassionate electorate. The solution is a ranked-choice voting system.

Competitive elections are good democracy, creating more engaged voters over a longer period of time, said Heather Evans of Sam Houston State University in an article for LSE US Centre.  

For constituents with political apathy, I believe rank choice voting may remedy many components of the common rhetoric of “my vote doesn’t matter.”

Rank choice voting is a nonpartisan reform everyone should support as it gives us all the tools to take back our power.

Essentially, the process of rank choice voting allows voters to select representatives by order of preference. The candidates are then chosen by those rankings, selected by a 50 percent  majority. If a majority is not present, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and the voter’s next choice is considered instead. 

For the first time in election history, Maine, which approved a rank choice referendum in 2016, used the method in a presidential year general election, giving incumbent senator Susan Collins a run for her money, and making for one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.

The Washington Post reported that Collins, who has been serving the people of Maine for 24 years, had to work for the majority, instead of relying on mere incumbent name recognition. In the past, she may have gotten the most votes, but not necessarily won by a large majority of the overall vote. Under this system, 50 percent of votes were needed. In fact, In 2018 under this system, a Republican member of Congress lost reelection in the second round despite getting more first-place votes.

Collins won her seat, but not without this majority support and the highest voter turnout numbers, percentage-wise, in the country. According to Statista, Maine’s voter turnout  in the election was estimated at 79.2 percent compared to a national average of 66.5 percent.

This is important, not just for voter engagement, but the integrity of democracy itself.

Ranked_choice_voting is_used in 25 states so far, implementing the measure on a variety of governmental levels, according to Virginia uses rank choice voting in select local and county elections. 

Additionally, many colleges and universities employ this option in student government and other races. The University of Virginia has been using ranked-choice voting on campus since 2003.

UMW elections do not use the system but should definitely consider the option. Reflective representation is just as vital in student groups like the Honor Council as it is in federal and state elections.

Rank choice voting gives more power back into the hands of the people, to which it belongs and protects the voter. 

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