Amongst the myriad issues, our nation faces, perhaps one of the most fundamental, and yet overlooked, is how we elect our representatives to office. For a nation as diverse as the United States, a country built on the belief that every citizen should be able to exercise his or her rights freely, there is a cruel irony to the fact that our electoral system perpetuates such political myopics. Currently, a plurality of voting Americans (39%) describe themselves as independents, while 28% and 31% identify as Republican or Democrat, respectively. It is no secret that political independents are treated as second class citizens in our democracy, being denied the right to vote in primaries across the country has effectively marginalized our nation’s most apolitical and pragmatic voters. Instead of choosing the best candidates for public office, Independents, who are usually the voters that swing elections, are forced to pick the lesser of two evils, year in and year out.
Of course, this should come as a surprise to nobody. When Republicans and Democrats run in primaries only open to members of their parties, the winning strategy is to move as far to the left or right in order to secure their nomination- it doesn’t matter that they’ll isolate independents in the process, because the independents will be forced to choose between the two of them either way. This is where the idea of our two-party system being a duopoly has its roots.
But instituting a voting method known as “Instant Runoff Voting” or “Ranked Choice Voting” could fundamentally alter the politics of our country and help promote independent and centrist candidates, who are sorely needed at the moment. This short article will demonstrate the mechanics of Instant Runoff Voting as well as highlight how it would broaden our nation’s political conversation and promote better policies.
How it Works
The way our elections currently work is relatively straight-forward: one vote per seat, no matter how many candidates are running. Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) works quite differently. Using the picture above, which shows three different sample ballots, we can see how IRV instantly gives voters more flexibility when casting a vote. To see why let’s use you as an example.
When you went to your local polling station to cast your vote, instead of being forced to pick one candidate, you would be able to rank as many candidates as you desired. If there were five candidates, you could rank all five (demonstrated in the sample ballot to the left). If, and this would be more likely, you had a particular distaste for one or two candidates, you could decide not to rank them at all and ensure they didn’t get a vote from you (demonstrated in the two sample ballots to the right. Now, say you voted for the candidate who ended up getting the least amount of first place votes after the first round of ballot counting. At this point, your candidate would be eliminated and the second round of ballot counting would commence with your second choice vote being counted instead. Eventually, this process would continue, with one candidate being eliminated each round until a winner was declared.
Here is a video that demonstrates this nicely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0xEaTyCEUA
Many partisan politicians today pay lip service to the idea that “every vote should count”, and adopting IRV would be a way to ensure that every voter had their vote counted when it really mattered. In addition to this, IRV would also provide a boost to independent and centrist candidates. This is because most Americans who identify as Independent only vote for Republican and Democrat candidates, and they’re reasoning is that they don’t vote for third party candidates because they have no chance of winning, which is sadly true, but IRV changes that. With Instant Runoff Voting, you would be able to rank an independent candidate as “1”, and then rank your “lesser of two evils” pick as “2”. No longer would a vote for an independent candidate be seen as a wasted vote. Instead, by giving independents a form of insurance by allowing them to select one of the two party candidates in the event that their primary choice does not win, we could create a path for viable centrist candidates in the future, which would be the perfect antidote for the rising tides of extremism that is pervasive in both major political parties today.