“Ranked-Choice Voting Is More Democratic, Not Less”

This piece, in American Purpose by Peter Ackerman, Larry Diamond, Cara Brown McCormick, responds to a critique of RCV by former member of Congress Mickey Edwards. Some excerpts:

Edwards’ principled view is that a two-round runoff election is superior to ranked-choice voting because it gives voters a chance to take a “second look” at the final two candidates. A “second look” is valuable, but it asks a lot of voters, who must turn out again for the runoff, which would be the third election of the year. Also, because it involves just the two highest first-round vote-getters, it does not fully account for voters’ preferences.

RCV includes more comprehensive “instant runoffs:” If no candidate “wins” the first round, the candidates with the fewest “wins” are eliminated. Their votes get transferred to the next-preferred candidates. These instant runoffs continue until a candidate wins a majority. This means candidates can come from behind to win, because they appeal to more voters than anyone else….

Edwards calls RCV “anti-democratic” because it elevates “conviviality to the highest rank of qualifications for public office.” We think this gets things backwards. The logic of RCV is not to elevate conviviality but to punish gratuitously polarizing candidates who might mobilize an intense first-round following but are unacceptable to most of the electorate. That is a democratically worthy goal….

Moreover, if we want to avoid “anti-democratic” methods, what is more anti-democratic: a candidate winning an election with just a plurality of the vote, or a series of instant runoffs that produces a majority winner?

Edwards dislikes the notion that “a person who receives the most first-place votes might become a loser;” but the two-round voting that he favors can produce a similar result, less efficiently than RCV does.

RCV also gives independents and third-party candidates a better chance to get a “first look” from voters. Thus, RCV does more to stimulate democratic competition….

Our deepening democratic dysfunction has more than one cause, but we think a key one is the current polarizing electoral system. This is also the factor we can most readily address, by mobilizing more states to follow Maine and Alaska and adopt RCV, as voters in Oregon and Nevada are now circulating petitions to do. RCV is a political reform whose time is coming, and none too soon.

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