Our current plurality voting system, where everyone selects a single preference and then the person with the most votes wins, is viewed negatively by election scientists, for several reasons:
- It’s vulnerable to a spoiler effect, where a third-party candidate can take just enough votes away from a candidate to cause them to lose, even if that candidate would be preferred to the eventual winner.
- It can cause strategic voting, where voters don’t vote for their favorite but rather the person they like who is most likely to win.
- Especially with a party-based primary system, it leads to partisanship, as centrist candidates, despite having wider support, lose out to candidates who appeal to the fringes of each party.
There are many alternative voting systems that are superior to plurality voting. We should move to a ranked-choice/instant runoff voting system, a system that has recently been implemented in Maine and is being explored by many other localities.
In ranked choice voting, each voter ranks their top three candidates, from 1 to 3. After this is complete, every voter’s first choice is tallied. If one candidate received over 50% of the vote, they win the election. If no candidate hit the majority threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Then, everyone who listed that eliminated candidate as their first choice has their second choice considered. These second-choice votes are added to the totals for the remaining candidates. If a candidate at this point has received over 50% of the votes, then they win; otherwise, the process repeats itself until someone does receive a majority of votes.
Election experts almost universally agree that ranked-choice voting is superior to plurality voting. The benefits include:
- Better capturing voter preferences. Since each voter is allowed to express how they feel about more candidates, the outcome tends to reflect the choices of voters better.
- Allows for more moderate candidates. A candidate that has broad, cross-aisle appeal is more likely to win using a ranked-choice voting system since voters can express their preference for a more partisan candidate as well as the more moderate choice.
- Lowers levels of negative campaigning. Since each voter can potentially vote for a candidate as well as their opponent, candidates shy from negative campaigning that would alienate the supporters of other candidates, instead trying to appeal to those voters as their second or third choice.
One reason we sometimes wind up with extreme politicians is that we have a one-round process that does not always reflect people’s true preferences. Ranked choice voting would help reward candidates who command broad support and would lead to better results. The process matters.
Problems to be Solved
- Our current plurality/first-past-the-post system drives tactical voting and partisanship while not necessarily reflecting the will of the majority.
- Adopt a voting system that better captures the will of the majority of voters
- Adopt a voting system that combats partisanship
As President, I will…
- Push the DNC to adopt a ranked-choice voting model for all democratic primaries.
- Work with Congress to adopt ranked-choice voting for all federal elections.