League of Women Voters of Larimer County supports an election reform called ranked choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting.
It solves a significant problem in today’s elections, that a candidate can win with only a plurality (the most votes), rather than a majority (50 percent plus one). With plurality, a winner could have as little as 30 percent support, as happened in one Northern Colorado election. We believe elected officials should have majority support.
Runoff elections can help, since a two-candidate race guarantees a majority winner. But runoff elections add cost and time burdens to election officials, candidates, and voters alike, and unfortunately have lower voter turnout.
The League believes ranked choice voting is a better approach because it combines both elections in one, hence the nickname “instant runoff voting.”
How does it work? In a ranked-choice election voters rank the candidates from first to last choice. A voter might think, “I prefer Sam, but Susie would be OK, and Steve would do in a pinch.” If a candidate gets the majority of first-choice votes, then the election is over.
But if no candidate has the majority, then the last candidate is eliminated, each ballot for the dropped candidate now counts as a vote for the second choice, and all the ballots are counted again, as though everyone had voted in a runoff election. This process is repeated until one candidate has the majority.
Ranked voting ends the “spoiler effect.” People can run for office without concern they might help an undesirable candidate by splitting the vote among candidates with like views. And voters can select their “true” first choice without concern their vote may be wasted.
Ranked voting strikes a decisive blow against negative campaigning by removing the perverse incentive embedded in plurality elections to “go negative.” Since candidates will want second-choice as well as first-choice votes, they have little to gain by trashing the opposition.
Experience shows ranked choice voting leads to more positive, issue-oriented campaigns, and improves the chances of electing bridge-builders over ultra-partisans, thus helping to ease the current plague of polarization in public life.
Brian Woodruff is a member of the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.