Category Archives: alternative voting systems

“The impact of voter confusion in ranked choice voting”

Lonna Rae AtkesonEli McKown-DawsonJack Santucci, and Kyle L. Saunders in Social Science Quarterly. Abstract:


Election observers have expressed concerns about voter “confusion” under ranked choice voting (RCV) since the 1890s. What is the meaning of “confusing,” and how does it affect behavior? We argue (with much of the literature) that ranking candidates for public office is a cognitively complex task because of a lack of information.


We explore some observable implications of this perspective using exit poll data from the first RCV election in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2018.


Sixteen percent of voters reported having felt very (6 percent) or somewhat (10 percent) confused, and Hispanic voters were more likely to be confused than white voters. Confused voters report ranking fewer candidates, have lower confidence in ballot-counting accuracy, and are less supportive of RCV than nonconfused voters.


These results raise questions about RCV’s equity, participation costs for voters, ease of use, and longevity.

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“How a new way of electing the House can change our politics”

Drew Penrose and David Daley oped:

The most meaningful change would put an end to winner-take-all, single-member districts and create a proportional House with larger, multimember districts and proportional voting. This might sound like a big lift, but it’s fully constitutional, deeply aligned with our founding vision, and only requires Congress to pass a statute. For example, the Fair Representation Act, a bill to be reintroduced in Congress this week by Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), would do just that by requiring every state to replace its winner-take-all elections with proportional ranked-choice voting.

The advantages of a proportional system would be dramatic and immediate. It would make every contest competitive in every state. It would end gerrymandering and more fully represent the breadth of ideas held by voters. It would greatly expand opportunities for communities of color to build power. And it would create incentives for legislators to work productively in service of the public interest rather than to obstruct and demean their opponents.

Single-member, winner-take-all robs us of the diversity of ideas and interests that exist across all regions of the country. Massachusetts, for example, is a blue state. In 2020, all nine of its congressional districts were safely Democratic. Yet across those districts, 1.2 million people backed Donald Trump for president. Likewise, the band of states running up the center of the country, consisting of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, elected a combined 14 representatives, 13 of whom were Republicans. Yet across those 13 Republican districts, 1.5 million people wanted Joe Biden to be president.

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“Ranked-Choice Voting is MAGA’s Latest Target; Leonard Leo and other far-right power players are attacking a bipartisan election reform.”

Brendan Fischer writes for Documented (here’s the version at Rolling Stone):

An organized and well-funded network of right-wing groups is spending countless millions attacking a bipartisan election reform that could threaten the MAGA political project.

Ranked-choice voting — which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, rather than just selecting one — has been used in state and federal elections in Alaska and Maine, and has been gaining momentum in dozens of other states and municipalities, often with bipartisan support. Voters in Nevada and Oregon will hold referendums on adopting the system in 2024, and several other state and local governments have also been considering ranked-choice voting measures.

But beginning in early 2022, and intensifying in 2023, a range of so-called “election integrity” groups, from Leonard Leo’s Honest Elections Project to Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network, have made stopping ranked-choice voting a top legislative priority.

Five states have since banned any city or county government from adopting the system, and at least six other states are considering similar measures this year. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) approved a model bill banning ranked-choice voting last year, a Turning Point Action official successfully pressed the Republican National Committee to adopt a resolution opposing the practice, and the Heritage Foundation has organized grassroots activists to oppose ranked choice voting in several states.

The far-right fixation on ranked-choice voting “is a bit bizarre,” said Rick Hasen, a professor and director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project at UCLA’s Law School. “It’s not really an issue of ‘honest elections’ or ‘election integrity,’” he said. “It’s a debate about the best way to translate voters’ preferences into election winners.”

“I would guess,” Hasen said, “that the reason for the fear of ranked choice voting is that it could help elect more Republican moderates rather than more extreme Republicans.”

Ranked choice voting is one of the few — if not the only — democracy reforms that still has bipartisan support. For example, 21 cities in deep-red Utah use ranked choice voting, where it is broadly popular, and bills to implement it have attracted Republican co-sponsors in states like Wisconsin, Virginia, and Georgia. The organized attacks on ranked choice voting appear aimed at eroding support for the reform among Republican lawmakers and conservative activists.

Groups backed by right-wing activist Leonard Leo are playing an outsized role in the campaign against ranked choice voting. Leo, who served as former President Donald Trump’s judicial adviser, helped construct the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority. In 2021, he was put in control of a $1.6 billion dark money fund to help push U.S. politics to the right.

While Leo’s relationship with Trump has frayed — he reportedly considered boosting another MAGA-aligned candidate, Ron DeSantis, in the GOP presidential primary — the success of his political project relies on electing far-right candidates under the same system that produced Trump….

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“The two-party doom loop”

Lee Drutman and Farbod Faraji Boston Globe oped:

Our antiquated system of single-member, winner-take-all elections — if a candidate wins 51 percent of the vote, she wins 100 percent of the representation — is not up to the extraordinary challenges facing our nation today. The US electoral system needs a more modern system of representation — proportional representation, which elects multiple representatives in each district in proportion to the number of people who vote for them — to better represent both the diversity and pluralism of the nation and, more practically, to allow for more shifting coalitions that could find creative compromises on issues like immigration. Because proportional systems tend to create space for more parties — and more opportunities for fluid coalition-building across them — they are associated with less dangerous degrees of polarization and tend to be at a lesser risk of political violence. Unlike other changes that require constitutional amendments, American elections can switch to proportional representation through a simple statutory change.

By contrast, winner-take-all systems like the United States’ are associated with higher levels of polarization and a greater risk of political violence. Re-legalizing fusion voting — where multiple political parties can nominate the same candidate on the ballot — would also be a powerful step toward a multiparty democracy and would allow for a uniquely American version of proportional representation within the context of existing single-winner elections.

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“Some on the Right Flirt With a Voting Method the Left Loves”

Michael Wines for the NYT:

Long viewed as an intriguing, if somewhat wonky, approach to conducting elections, ranked-choice voting — allowing voters to list candidates in order of preference instead of selecting just one — appears to be having a moment.

Across the country, voters have adopted the system for municipal and county elections in each of the last 27 times the issue has been put to them. Nevada and Oregon — and perhaps Colorado and Idaho as well — will hold referendums on adopting the system this fall. Maine and Alaska already have adopted it.

Proponents say ranked choice reduces polarization by forcing candidates to seek broad support, and that it allows voters to support minor or protest candidates without them becoming spoilers. Critics call the system confusing and even undemocratic, since candidates who initially get the most first-place votes don’t always win in the end.

But just how popular ranked-choice voting is may depend on the group that has most often waged tooth-and-claw battles against it: conservatives, and in particular Republican political figures, who have ideological and practical reasons to oppose the system.

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Kokolis and Tremitiere on fusion voting

Another whitepaper at Protect Democracy by Cyrena Kokolis and Beau Tremitiere, Fusion Voting and a Revitalized Role for Minor Parties in Presidential Elections. Here’s the introduction:

The run-up to the 2024 presidential election is highlighting the deep dissatisfaction throughout the electorate with our two-party system, as well as the difficulty in sustaining a broad electoral coalition to defeat anti-democratic extremism. Voters are expressing an overwhelming dislike of both major parties and growing interest in more electoral choices. Yet under our existing electoral rules, the odds of an independent or minor party candidate winning the presidency are extremely low. A common concern raised is that candidacies by the progressives Cornel West and Jill Stein and centrist political organization No Labels would splinter the pro-democracy vote in 2024, giving an electoral advantage to an authoritarian candidate like Donald Trump. Another worry is the risk of a constitutional crisis if an upstart campaign pulls off an upset in one or two states and prevents any candidate from securing a majority in the Electoral College, thereby leaving the selection of the president and vice president to Congress.

Our success in defending U.S. democracy will turn, in part, on our ability to make our political system more responsive to and representative of our diverse electorate and to facilitate cross-ideological majority electoral coalitions in defense of democracy and the rule of law. An electoral practice that once allowed minor parties throughout the country to exert real influence in politics — fusion voting — could help advance these goals. By empowering factions with differing views on policy but a shared commitment to liberal democracy to unify in support of a single candidate, fusion can serve as a key tool for defeating authoritarian threats at the ballot box. The following sections define fusion voting, describe its practical effects, and briefly summarize its long history in U.S. elections. We conclude by discussing the particular value of fusion voting in modern presidential elections, especially for voters in the political center concerned about extremism and hyper-partisanship.

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Richmond, Virginia’s Odd System for Choosing a Mayor Has Roots in Settling a Voting Rights Act Objection

File this in the Department of Things I Did No Know:

All the contenders will face off one nonpartisan ballot this fall, and a candidate needs to win a plurality of the vote in at least five of the nine City Council districts in order to win the contest outright. This means that, just like in a presidential election, it’s very possible for a candidate to win the mayor’s office while coming in second (or potentially even further back) in the popular vote.

If no one wins outright, then the two candidates with the most votes citywide would compete in a runoff six weeks later. However, the winner still isn’t the candidate with the most votes, it’s the candidate who wins a majority of the Council seats. If no one manages to pull this off (ie, if there’s a tie that prevents anyone from winning at least five districts), only then would the popular vote determine the winner.

This system was first put in place for the 2004 mayoral race, a contest that former Democratic Gov. Douglas Wilder won overwhelmingly, and so far, the candidate with the most votes has always won outright. In 2008, Del. Dwight Clinton Jones won 39-34 and carried five of the nine Council seats, and he was re-elected in a landslide four years later. In 2016, Stoney himself won the popular vote by a narrow 36-34, but he also avoided a second round of voting by carrying a majority of the Council districts.

So, how did this system come to be? While Richmond only started voting this way in 2004, Venugopal Katta explained in a 2017 piece for William & Mary Law School’s Election Law Society that the reasoning behind it goes back decades further. Back in 1969, the predominantly white City Council, whose members were elected citywide at the time, approved a plan to annex part of neighboring Chesterfield County. This move lowered Richmond’s black population from 52% to just 42%, and critics argued it was done to strengthen white voters at the expense of African Americans.

However, as Katta wrote, the plan ran into trouble two years later when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act required any changes in city lines to be approved either by the U.S. attorney general or the D.C. District Court. Richmond had completed the annexation by this time, but the attorney general’s office refused to approve it. The city finally came up with a compromise where it would elect city councilors by district, and it agreed that five of the nine seats would have black majorities.

The Supreme Court approved this new plan in 1975’s City of Richmond v. United States decision, and for decades, the City Council remained the major force in Richmond politics. The body continued to pick the mayor from among its members (now-Sen. Tim Kaine became mayor this way in 1998), but a series of corruption scandals involving councilmembers led to calls for a strong and independent chief executive.

In 2002, former Gov. Douglas Wilder and former Mayor Tom Bliley called for electing the mayor citywide. However, while Richmond was again majority black by this point, local African American leaders feared that wealthier and better organized white voters would have a greater say over who led the city. In order to ensure that a mayor couldn’t win without substantial black support, the Wilder-Bliley Commission’s plan required mayoral candidates to win five of the nine districts in order to be elected. This plan overwhelmingly passed in a 2003 referendum, and it remains in place today.

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“Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Equality, Proportionality, and Our Abridged Voting Rights Regime”

New from Michael Latner. Abstract:

What constraints should the protection of political equality place on the design of electoral systems? With the exception of requiring approximate population equality across a jurisdiction’s districts, the U.S. voting rights regime accepts substantial disproportionality in voting strength. This Article addresses the current Supreme Court’s abandonment of the Second Reconstruction’s “one person, one vote” standard with regard to both racial and partisan gerrymandering, and assesses the role that Congress and political science have played in this transition. This Article argues that an unabridged voting rights regime must recognize a standard of proportional representation derived from the protection of individual political equality.

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