Title media by
Elana Lane

The American election system is flawed. Since its formation, the electoral college has been criticized by various political proponents, and its flaws are overwhelmingly apparent through the results of our current election system. The electoral college allows certain states to have tremendous control over presidential elections through completely arbitrary qualifiers. Additionally, the electoral college often disagrees with the results of a nationwide popular vote. While there are many proposed alternatives to the electoral college, it would require a massive bipartisan effort to even begin discussing such a large systemic change. A new voting system would significantly change the landscape of American politics by reducing corporate power and promoting diversity in our government. Rather than restructure the entire system, American citizens must advocate and vote for change in the voting methods used across the country.

The voting system leagues ahead of the rest in evidence and real-world testing is ranked-choice voting—also known as instant-runoff or RCV. On a ranked-choice ballot, voters rank candidates from their first choice to their last; voters are allowed as few or as many choices as they would like. The structure is as follows:

  1. All candidates are compared using only their first-choice votes
  2. The candidate with the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to each of their voters’ second-choice.
  3. This process repeats itself until a candidate achieves a majority of the vote (over 50%).

There are scenarios where no candidate receives a majority vote. In this case, one of two things can happen: 

  1. The candidate with the highest number of votes wins the election.
  2. A second election is held with the two remaining candidates to determine a winner

(via abcnews:https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ranked-choice-voting-state-presidential-election/story?id=72780965)

A common criticism of ranked-choice voting is that it is too complicated, and could lead to confusion among voters. However, in a comprehensive analysis of New York City’s mayoral ranked-choice election, Citizen Union reported that “[the] vast majority [of voters] found it to be easy and straightforward, with 80% of voters calling the system, ‘very simple.’”

Ranked-choice voting has already been implemented in Maine, New York City, San Francisco, among other cities. As seen through local implementation, RCV on a federal level would single-handedly boost multiple parties to national recognition, bolster underfunded candidates, significantly increase diversity, and ensure that each vote counts.

In the 2020 presidential election, neither candidate was very popular. Donald Trump was perceived as a bigoted, racist, misogynistic, and generally terrible person by many members of the American public. Alternatively, Joe Biden was seen as too boring, corporate, clueless, and old to be considered a good candidate. According to a poll conducted by Monmouth University, significantly more Americans rejoiced over a Trump loss rather than a Biden victory. In fact, a large percentage of Biden’s record-breaking voter base couldn’t stand him: though 73% of Generation Z voted for Biden, this was largely due to the “Settle for Biden '' movement that trended around the world. It's not a great sign that a president who won by record margins had little actual support. 

The “Settle for Biden” movement is a testament to the many failures of America’s voting system. Progressives rallied, organized, canvassed, and voted to make sure that the “lesser of two evils'' won. But what have these progressives received in return?— nothing. Despite Biden’s promises, there has been no significant student loan or healthcare policy change, but instead a continuation of inhumane immigration policies and unwavering economic support for Israel. 

Progressives, socialists, anarchists, and even libertarians have long been underrepresented in American politics: they continue to rally for candidates who pretend to care about their issues. The Green Party surrenders to the immensely powerful Democratic party year after year, while progressive voters are forced to rally for glorified republicans. Ranked-choice voting addresses this issue by allowing voters to voice their opinions. You can cast your primary vote for Bernie Sanders or even Howie Hawkins with absolutely no penalty. Your vote is not wasted, because even if your first-choice candidate loses, you can still display a preference through your ranked list. You can ensure that your vote will end up with Joe Biden over Donald Trump, but with a list of your preferred politicians first. 

The greatest thing about ranked-choice voting is that there is a plethora of data that supports these claims. A 2020 study by Eamon McGinn found that ranked-choice voting caused a 9.6%  increase in voter turnout. For reference, the 2020 United States presidential election only saw an approximate 5% increase in voter turnout when compared to the 2016 election. 

This claim is supported by analysis done on New York’s most recent mayoral primaries. According to a Citizens Union analysis, only 14.9% of voters had “inactive ballots,” meaning that it had no effect on the election: compare this to the 33% of voters with inactive ballots in 2013. In the same study, Citizens Union also reported a stark increase in voter turnout, with close to a 20% increase in general down the ballot participation. Ranked-choice voting in New York was a complete success: if the nation's biggest city thrived through ranked-choice voting, then it can only spell good things for federal implementation.

Ranked-choice voting has also shown an astronomical shift towards greater diversity among its winners. The 117th congress has been praised for its ethnic diversity, being the most diverse congress since America’s founding. However, this praise is only given because of an acceptance of the status quo: 77% of Congress is white, compared to 60% of Americans; women comprise 51% of the U.S. population, but only make up 23% of the House. These trends continue with a severe underrepresentation of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities across all fronts. Perhaps even more saddening is that over half of Congress are millionaires, with the median net worth being 1 million dollars—almost 9 times the net worth of an average American household. Congress does not represent the people; it cannot represent the people without reflecting the people.

A study by RepresentWomen found a radical increase in electoral outcomes for women and people of color. In fact, 49% of all elections decided by ranked-choice voting were won by women, a further affirmation of its theoretical benefits. First-past-the-post voting systems protect incumbents while discouraging challengers, an additional challenge to minority candidates that contest the overwhelmingly white political scene. Candidates of color are often told to drop out of elections to ensure a victory for their party to reduce the risk of splitting the vote. RepresentWomen also found that “single-winner plurality elections” foster negative campaigning, which disproportionately affects women of color among other ethnic minorities.

However, it is first important to ask what the significance of the number of rounds required to win an election is. The answer is simple: the more rounds an election takes to come to a conclusive result, the closer the election. If an election under ranked-choice voting is called within one or two rounds, it means that the winning candidate achieved a majority of the votes with only first and second choices considered.

Ranked-choice voting incentivizes more candidates to run and gives voters an actual choice among candidates. Because of this, more minority and challenger candidates are running for political office than ever before. The fact that minority and challenger candidates take more rounds to win their elections proves the immense challenges of defeating white and incumbent candidates. It is likely that under our current first-past-the-post voting system, these minority and incumbent candidates would not have won these extremely close elections.  

 Figure 1 (Winning Candidate’s Race vs Number of Rounds in Election)

Figure 2 (Incumbency Status of Winner vs Number of Rounds in Election)

Perhaps the most appealing benefit of ranked-choice voting (RCV) is its effect on corporate spending in politics, and the integrity of elections. Data shows that voters in cities that implemented ranked-choice voting reported more positive campaigning, and greater satisfaction with elections among voters. Campaigns under ranked-choice voting are typically cheaper than non-RCV counterparts. The economic factor extends to cities as well, as money will not be spent on tiebreaker elections, as it’s nearly impossible in a ranked-choice election. With campaigns less reliant on money in ranked-choice elections, candidates can reliably win campaigns without dirty money: a huge win for anti-capitalist candidates.

Ranked-choice voting helps everyone. It helps political parties mobilize more efficiently, through less dependence on money in elections and more reliance on actual campaigning. It helps smaller candidates collect votes that voters would previously be too intimidated to cast. Voters are no longer pressured to support the “safer” candidate, and can instead truly participate in the democratic system. It helps progressive candidates by incentivizing them to run at the same time, as they pose no harm to other left-leaning candidates. Ranked-choice voting leads to diversity and fairness in an inherently bigoted and unfair system. Its implementation is simple, and its benefits are innumerable. To ensure a representative, diverse, and fair future for America, it is imperative that ranked-choice voting is implemented across the nation immediately.