Force consideration of the other side rather than messing with ranked choice voting.

Rhode Island has reached the point that election day isn’t election day, and not only because early and mail voting blur the calendar.  As we’re seeing with the special Congressional race currently underway, for all intents and purposes, the Democrat primary is the election.  And with so many candidates vying for that position, one can hear murmurs for ranked choice voting (RCV).  That would be a mess.

Advocates claim RCV is just like runoffs, except taking place on a single ballot, but it’s not.  Vote counters run through everybody’s first choice, and if nobody wins a majority, the second choices of voters whose first choice came in last are added to the appropriate candidates’ totals.  If no candidate then has a majority, the next-to-last candidate is eliminated and those voters’ second choices are applied to the total.

In a runoff, a second election is held including just the top 2 candidates from the election, and everybody has to choose between them.

One could play mental games with the possible strategies with RCV, but suffice it to say peculiar outcomes would be more than possible.  For one example, in a five-way race the electorate could face a situation in which the top 2 candidates both lose because voters for the bottom 2 chose the third-place candidate as their second choice.  By eliminating from the bottom up, voters for the most-losing candidates get two votes while the voters for the top candidates only get one.

Rather than inviting confusion and novel strategies, we should strengthen the funnel that gets candidates to the ballot.  We should think more like a tournament than a cage match.  Constituencies should make their decisions, join forces, and then present their best option to the whole electorate.  That way, the parties have some incentive, at least, to consider what members of the other party would find palatable.

This is the purpose of primaries.  Unfortunately, the system of electors, committees, and so on has become muddied, but the solution is to shore them up.  To do so, we’ll have to address two unhealthy trends:  the muddying of government’s purpose, which has come as a consequence of increasing its top-down power, and the loss of common values.

Without repairing those two wounds, RCV would be a way to create the illusion of majority support among an even more fractious public.


Featured image by Justin Katz using Dall-E 2.

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