At our August meeting, Herb Tarbous gave a very informative presentation on ranked-choice voting.
Herb is a co-founder of Voter Choice NJ, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing information about ranked-choice voting (RCV) and to promoting its adoption for all elections in NJ. He is working hard to enable ranked-choice voting as a major step towards the goal of political diversity instead of political polarization.
What is ranked-choice voting?
In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference, thus ensuring majority support for the winning candidate (50% +1 to win).
Our current system (Plurality Voting) is a major cause of toxic polarization via the “spoiler effect”. In Pluralityvoting, the number of votes cast for a candidate who receives more than any other but does not receive an absolute majority is the winner. Whereas, in Majorityvoting, the winning candidate has more votes than those for all other candidates combined.
For example, when there are only two candidates Plurality voting works fine.
However, when there are 3 (or more) candidates, one often siphons votes in a disproportionate way from the others.
Rank-choice voting eliminates the spoiler effect of a third candidate.
It also increases civility in the campaign process. If you can vote for all candidates by designating your first choice, second choice and third choice, all candidates have reason to show the voter not only their differences on issues but also where they might agree. That is, they now have reason to be one voter’s first choice, but also another voter’s second choice.
Here are examples of how rank-choice votes are counted:
Candidate A = 55% Candidate B = 45%
Round 1 Candidate A = 40% Candidate B = 35% Candidate C = 20% Candidate D = 5%
Round 2 Candidate A = 44% Candidate B = 36% Candidate C = 20%
In Round 3, Candidate C is dropped and all those who voted for Candidate C have their 2nd choice
votes for the remaining candidates distributed:
Round 3 Candidate A = 45% Candidate B = 55% -- Winner!
Where is rank-choice voting being used now?
Ranked-choice Voting is currently the election law statewide for both federal and state elections in Maine and Alaska. It has been adopted in U.S. cities, including New York City (for Democratic primaries), in 11 states and in another five states with runoff elections. It is also used by overseas and military voters. Over 50 U.S. colleges and universities use RCV to elect student government officers. Internationally, it is used by every voter in six countries and in local elections in many more. RCV is recommended for private organizations by Roberts Rules of Order, and many private organizations use it, including the Academy Awards in both nominating and selecting the winner for the Oscars.
Studies done in California show that RCV expanded access to elected office by increasing representation for women and people of color.
A study in New York City showed a 29% increase in voter turnout (1M in 2021 vs. 772K in 2013). And an exit poll of voters found that 95% of voters found the RCV ballot simple to complete (a finding that held true across ethnic groups).
Here in New Jersey, State Senator Andrew Zwicker (LD 16) and State Senator Linda Greenstein (LD 14) have introduced the “Municipal and School Board Voting Options Act” (S3369) in the Senate, which would give voters across the state the right to use ranked-choice voting in their local elections if they so choose. Corresponding legislation (A5039) has been introduced by Assemblyman Dan Benson (LD 14) in the Assembly. The New Jersey State LWV is endorsing this legislation.
In December 2021, the city council of Hoboken voted in favor of an RCV “trigger ordnance,” which will send the question of using RCV in local elections to Hoboken voters after the legislation discussed above is passed by the state. Voters and elected officials in towns across the state are considering doing the same.
For more information on RCV and information on how to support this legislation, go to https://www.voterchoicenj.org.