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Rank Choice Voting

October 14, 2020 01:10 PM Comment(s) By Amy

What the data says about how we vote

As we approach election day, I'm not here to try to sway you politically in one direction or the other.  The majority of voters have already made up their mind anyway. What I'd like to share is what we believe is at the root of much of the divisiveness in our country today, and how that can be mitigated in the future - it's the way we vote.

The US is predominantly a 2 political party system.  The 2 main parties have won every presidential election since 1852, and controlled Congress since at least 1856.  Interestingly, the founding fathers were actually opposed to political parties, but I digress.  (Wikipedia has all the details for the super nerdy who want to read further on that.)

Let's use an example.  We're having pizza for dinner, and I want a pesto garlic alfredo ricotta sausage pizza.  My "other half" is desperate for a pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza.  You can see the problem.  We take pizza very seriously in this household, and things are about to get really heated.  So we call all our friends and ask them to weigh in on both choices, and the majority will win.  This is choice that we will forever be divided on, and the loser will be angry for a long time.  Sound familiar?  It should, because this is basically how our elections work today, often called "first past the post" or "winner-take-all" voting. 

But there's another way we can do this.  Let's say I still want my delicious pizza, and the other one still wants his weird pizza, but we'd both be okay with a pepperoni pizza. This time when we vote, we each rank our choices.  I rank my pizza #1, pepperoni pizza #2, and that other monstrosity #3.  The other member of the household ranks his pizza #1, pepperoni pizza #2, and my pizza #3.  Even though the pepperoni pizza was ranked #2 in both cases, it ended up with the majority!  Although neither one of us got our top choice, we're both happy with the outcome because we still get pizza for dinner.  See how much better that is?

Yes, I over-simplified, as there are many ways of calculating rank choice voting.  There's a lot of great info out there if you want to read more about it.  Maine will be the first state in the US to use rank choice voting in a presidential election next month, so we'll be watching them closely to see their results.  Massachusetts and Alaska have questions on their ballot this year that could move them to rank choice voting for state elections.  There are also several municipalities across the US using this system today, with more moving in that direction.  This methodology has been gaining more support over time, so you can expect to see it come up again and again.

The data supports the fact that even if you can't give everyone their first choice, there are often other options that people are okay with.  This has lead to less division and less partisanship where it's used - both things I think we all wish there was a little less of these days.