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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Rank Choice Voting Can Make America Great Again

Many elections that we have participated in operate under a “first past the post,” or plurality, system, where the winner of the election is the individual who receives the highest percentage of votes when the election ends. We think of this as normal because it is what we are used to, but does someone really “win” an election if they do not have a majority of the vote?
Imagine a scenario where there are three candidates running in a race. Candidate A receives 37% of the vote, Candidate B 29%, and Candidate C 34%. Candidate A would be declared the winner, even though they did not receive the support of a majority of voters. This is not the way things should work. Enter rank choice voting.
Rank choice voting (RCV) is a system of voting that ensures the winner of a contest is the person who has received the majority (50% +1). This is achieved through a ballot that allows a voter to rank their choices in the order they would like to see hold the particular office. When the votes have been cast, the ballots are counted. In our scenario described above, nobody has won a majority of votes, so Candidate B would be eliminated from the race since they received the lowest number of votes. The voters who listed Candidate B as their first choice will have their vote reallocated to their second choice, and the ballots will be recounted. This process repeatseliminating the person with the lowest amount of votes and redistributing to the third, fourth, fifth, etc. choice of the voter, until a round results in one candidate receiving more than 50% of the votes. This person would be declared the winner.
Rank choice guarantees that the will of the people be carried out. It also has several other positive benefits. Firstly, it eliminates the myth of the “spoiler effect.” The spoiler effect claims that candidates not running with one of the two major parties in America somehow “steal” votes from them, or “spoil” the election. An entirely different opinion piece could be written about how asinine this claim is. In rank choice voting, voters who tend to prefer independent party candidates can still vote their values by placing their preferred candidate first, while still being pragmatic by making their second and third choices ones they could live with if they were to be successful. This has other positive effects, such as making it easier for independent parties to achieve ballot access in their states, access to federal election funds, debate time, and more media attention. Together, these factors provide for a field of candidates that must actually attempt to appeal to the masses instead of a select base of voters.
Another important effect rank choice voting has is reducing negative campaigning. We are unfortunately all too familiar with vicious campaign ads that engage in heavy ad hominem attacks, manipulative statements, and sometimes even outright lies. RCV makes candidates reach outside their base to engage with the broader public so that they can secure second or third choice votes. FairVote has shown that, in areas that employ RCV, campaign ads are more positive and constructive.
Yet another positive impact of RCV is lowering the cost of elections. In Massachusetts, most cities and towns employ a “preliminary” election to narrow down the pool of candidates for a general election. These elections are costly, generally have a minuscule turnout of voters, and do not resolve the problem of “vote-splitting.” RCV solves this problem in a single ballot, rendering preliminary elections obsolete, which both saves money and can increase voter participation in one “main” election.
As a member of the Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts, the state branch of the Green Party of the United States, I am vehemently in favor of RCV. It should be employed in every election, for every office, at every level of government. The Green Party calls for the abolishment of the Electoral College, leaving the office of the President to be decided directly by the people through the RCV method. RCV solves the problem that the Electoral College was meant to solve, but leaves the decision up to the American people as a whole, and not a selection of unknown “electors.”
RCV is already employed in cities and towns across the United States, and recently made the news at the statewide level in the 2018 midterm elections when Maine used RCV for the first time in a Federal election. In Massachusetts, RCV is imminent. The non-profit, non-partisan organization Voter Choice Massachusetts (VCMA) is engaging in a heavy campaign to convince MA lawmakers to adopt RCV statewide. If the State House does not respond to this call for action, VCMA plans to take RCV to the ballot in 2020.
If you want to learn more about RCV, you can visit VCMA’s website at https://www.voterchoicema.org/. The Young Greens of the University of Massachusetts Boston, in collaboration with the UMass Boston College Democrats and other student advocates, will be hosting an event on April 4, 2019 that features a speaker from VCMA. They will give a brief presentation that discusses the benefits of RCV, after which audience members can ask questions and participate in a discussion.