Why Aren’t People Talking About Ranked Choice Voting?

- Joe Scherpenberg

Voters in New York City will decide on an amendment to the city charter that would make future elections for New York City municipal positions decided by a ranked-choice ballot.

A small handful of municipalities and the state of Maine for federal elections have previously adopted this system, but the Big Apple would by far be the largest population of Americans to utilize the system. [Its worth noting that Australia has been using the ranked-choice method for over a century]

Though still in its nascent stages, calls for the adoption of ranked-choice voting have grown in the past few election cycles with an eye towards reforming way Americans vote.

But what is Ranked Choice voting? In a way, it’s your vote getting a second bite at the apple. I’m going to try and do the impossible now and describe the way it works. it’s not complicated, but it is difficult to grasp just reading a description of it, so bear with me. [if you’re a visual learner like me, just watch this video]

The way it works is you mark down on your ballot which candidate you’d vote for first, then what candidate you’d vote for second, then third, etc. Tallying the votes effectively happens in “rounds,” for lack of a better word. During the first round, the ballots are counted based on their FIRST choice. Once the first round tally is finished, every ballot that chose a candidate who came in last has their first choice discarded and then their vote gets credited to whoever their second choice was. This concludes the second round of tallying. This process continues until a winner is affirmatively decided.

But why go through all this trouble? What’s the point? Some argue this would open up public offices to third parties which would help political gridlock, give people a wider and more representative selection of candidates, and reduce voter apathy associated with feelings of wasted votes. It can also improve the tenor of campaigns and avoid the feeling of a "spoiler" effect.

Whether these potential benefits pan out will be something that Election Law experts and Reforms alike will be watching closely, but New York City adopting this method would go a long way in building momentum for wider acceptance in the United States.