Ranked choice voting explained

By Jean Chalmers

There is a serious problem in the way we select people to represent us in government. Often candidates, with less than 50 percent approval, get to sit up there and make decisions that affect our daily life. Often we do not vote for whom we actually support because we know that they will not win. We are confused by “spoiler” candidates who just run to steal votes from another candidate. This may be why so many voters simply stay home from the polls.

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is an election method that allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice. Voters mark their preferred candidate as the first choice and then mark their second choice, third choice and so on. These later choices never affect the earlier choices, so one can vote for as many or as few as one would like. First-choice votes are tallied, and if no one wins over 50 percent percent, the candidate in last place is eliminated and those votes are redistributed based on that voters’ second choice. This procedure is repeated until someone gets over 50 percent. Thus RCV avoids costly run-off elections, where voter participation drops off so precipitously. 

Our current method discourages voting for third party candidates so we never know how many voters support the Green Party, the Libertarian Party or any of the smaller parties in our nation. We only have to look at the Bush/Gore election to see what would have happened if the Nader votes had been distributed to those voter’s second choice. Obviously Gore would have won and the world would be a different place today. 

There are countless examples of where one contestant convinces and financially supports another person, who has no chance of winning, to get into a race just to steal votes away from an opponent. 

We know RCV works. The military abroad has used it for years because there is not enough time for run-off ballots. It works well and smoothly within the military. Citizens of Maine, New York City and Sarasota have voted for RCV, and it is being used extensively in this year’s primary elections. Australia, Ireland and many other countries have been using it for years. 

We need the Florida Secretary of State to approve it and, with help from the Legislature, we can give our citizens a much better method of selecting our political leaders.

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