COVID-19 Has Led to Important Voter Reform, Let’s Keep Going

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Several places across the country have already adopted this improved system of voting

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed us to distance socially but it has also brought us together in spirit. I am in awe of our community’s resilience, particularly when it comes to our infrastructure. I’m happy to see states adopting vote-by-mail systems in light of this pandemic like other states have been doing for a while now. I’ll be completely honest, as a citizen of Utah, I was not aware vote-by-mail wasn’t an option in all 50 states until I began seeing news about it in recent times. My entire adult life I have received a ballot in the mail for all local, state, and national elections and have been able to vote early and avoid going to polls. The only time I ever went to an in-person voting location was the 2016 Presidential Primary vote and this was because I had recently moved and didn’t receive my ballot and it took HOURS to stand in line a foot away from people just to fill in a quick bubble at the end then listen to people in the party talk about nothing I can remember. As voting reform is a relevant topic we ought to be talking about another option that can serve to bring us together in spirit even more in one of the most politically polarizing and physically distancing times in our nation’s history: Ranked Choice Voting. Because Ranked Choice Voting allows people to choose their second and third choices, we will more often end up with a less polarizing candidate. One that can reach across the aisle, and represent everyone in some way. Ranked Choice Voting ensures the most favorable candidate wins the election. We need representatives that reflect all of us. Ranked Choice Voting can do that.

Millions of people’s votes were essentially wasted due to voting for a candidate only to have them drop out before the votes were tallied.

One of the most relevant short-comings of a plain vote-by-mail system has especially been revealed through the recent Democratic Primary race. Millions of people’s votes were essentially wasted due to voting for a candidate only to have them drop out before the votes were tallied. However, this isn’t evidence that vote-by-mail is a problem, instead, it is evidence that we need to include Ranked Choice Voting in the process. Ranked Choice Voting, or RCV, is a simple improvement to the way we vote that gives you the option to rank your favorite candidates in the order of your preferences on the ballot: 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc. Places across the country including the whole state of Maine, Payson, Utah, and Minneapolis, Minnesota have already adopted RCV. If voters everywhere had the option to do this in the Democratic Primary race we would have been able to count everyone’s votes towards a candidate who was still in the race. Not only this but it would allow people to choose who they really like as their first choice instead of feeling like they’d be wasting their vote by not choosing one of the two leading candidates who were essentially lowest-common-denominator candidates representing the two rough views that represent the party today.

As a fan of Andrew Yang, I constantly heard “I like him but he can’t win” as the number one excuse for not considering voting for him. I would take a pretty confident guess that supporters of Tulsi Gabbard or Tom Steyer often heard the same thing. Imagine an election where people could outright choose the candidate they like most as their first choice without the fear that if that candidate didn’t win their vote wouldn’t be counted towards, perhaps, the two top candidates when it came down to it. Not only would it fix this immediate problem but over time we would start to get a better idea of where the country actually stands on ideas and policies. We are most-definitely more diverse than two sides. There was already proof of that in the diverse field of candidates we had even in the last couple of months leading into Iowa. Unfortunately, the voting tallies were not able to represent this and we end up with voters grouping themselves in with the leading candidate the most represents their views rather than the candidate that overall does so.

Ranked Choice Voting allows for the winner to be the most favorable candidate which could often end up being the person who came in second or third on the first tally because the person who won the first round did not have a majority. Isn’t this how our voting system was intended in the first place? To pick the candidate who has majority support, not just the candidate who has a plurality after one quick vote? If you live in certain states, this idea may already sound familiar to you. This idea has been played out in run-off elections which is conceptually an improvement on the first-round plurality wins system, however as we’ve seen, these elections come with their own host of problems. Most notably is making people go to in-person polling locations twice. This is simply impractical and just increases the chances of having a lower turn-out, especially the second time. RCV is also known as an instant runoff election. If you already support the idea of run-off elections, let’s face it, why wouldn’t you? Then you’ll love RCV because it allows people to make their choices ahead of time and the run-off idea is then executed solely in the counting room instead of during an arduous process of two in-person votes.

The number one phrase used by common voters who aren’t straight-party voters or base fans was “lesser of two evils.”

Another important benefit of the Ranked Choice Voting System is that third-party candidates that don’t feel right about identifying with either of the major parties could still have a chance at running a successful campaign. They wouldn’t have to compromise and “play ball” with the establishment of either side. It may be hard to imagine this would matter when looking at the outcome of any general election but in reality, about 40% of voters are registered as Independent. I imagine if we had a system that didn’t emphasize the two parties so much this number would be even higher. If over a third of our nation is already identifying as not affiliated then it is clear we are ready for a more representative and, quite frankly, evolved system. Not only would RCV matter in the primary races but also in the general election. We could have more than two, again, lowest-common-denominator candidates and still be able to have one win a majority. I would guess that we would see that third or fourth candidate win pretty often. Let’s look at the 2016 general election. The number one phrase used by common voters who aren’t straight-party voters or base fans was “lesser of two evils.” Meaning the majority of people really didn’t like either candidate. Even if going into the election the public still felt that way but almost everyone put that third candidate as their second choice, as more favorable than the other major candidate, we would have ended up with a president who was likely more representative of everyone in some way rather than half of the country saying “this is not our president”.

Ranked Choice Voting is a simple improvement to the way we already vote. It’s easy to understand and just makes more sense. I already rank candidates in my head in order of who I would like in case my candidate were to drop out and I imagine I’m not the only one. RCV would allow for less polarizing candidates, more options, and less negative campaigning be candidates would have to appeal more broadly to voters, not just their guaranteed base. For all these reasons plus many more we most strongly consider continuing this voter reform wave we are seeing in light of the current crisis. We have the opportunity to fix a big problem with our democracy and we should not pass it up.

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