By Jane Ramberg
I, and most people I know, are in despair about what’s happening in our country. The vitriol. The huge chasm that divides us. I believe that most people on both sides of this chasm truly love our country and want our democracy to thrive. But our problems are complex. And, solutions that we may believe could address our extreme polarity feel out-of-reach or could take years to accomplish.
But there is one straightforward tool that is not out of reach: Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). I believe that RCV, which could be available to many Washingtonians as early as 2023, could help narrow the chasm that divides us and help us move forward.
What is RCV? It’s a simple improvement to the way we vote. With RCV, you have the option to rank candidates on your ballot in the order you prefer: first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on. If your favorite can’t win, your vote can count for your next choice. The ultimate winner is the candidate who is favored by 50% or more of the electorate.
With RCV, we can vote honestly, not strategically. We can be assured that whoever wins an election has at least some level of support from the majority of the electorate. We can enjoy less-divisive campaigns (candidates are more likely to express alignment with, rather than antipathy towards, some of their competitors). You need to look no further than the recent special election in Alaska to fill a vacant U.S. House seat to see the power of RCV. Because none of the three main candidates received at least 50% of first-choice votes, it was second-choice votes that decided that election.
Support of RCV is not partisan. It’s endorsed by many politicians, national political leaders and scholars on democracy, elections and mathematics. Residents of Alaska and Maine already use it for federal elections. As of July 2022, 55 cities, counties, and states are projected to use RCV for all voters in their next election based on using it in their most recent election or a recent adoption. Residents of Clark and San Juan counties and the city of Seattle will decide in November whether or not they want to adopt RCV.
We’re so fortunate to live in a state where the promise of RCV is being taken seriously! In early 2023, your Washington state representatives will be voting on two pieces of bipartisan legislation:
- an RCV Local Options bill, which would give cities and towns and counties the option to adopt RCV. (A few counties in Washington, like Clark and San Juan counties, don’t need to wait for the passage of this legislation. Their voters can approve RCV via a charter amendment. Residents of Okanogan County will need to wait for passage of the RCV Local Options Bill).
- the RCV for Presidential Primaries bill would bring ranked-choice voting to presidential primaries in Washington state.
Some people worry that RCV is “too complicated” and might discourage voter participation. But the evidence doesn’t back that up. The number of ballots cast in Alaska’s recent primary was the third-highest total in state history. In New York City, where RCV was used for the first time just last year, a poll found that 95% of voters found their ballot “simple” to complete. Polls from other places show that once voters get to use RCV, they overwhelmingly like it and want to keep it.
So I ask all of you to get educated about RCV and decide for yourselves whether or not you agree that it’s worth giving it a try. Good online resources include www.fairvote.org and www.fairvotewa.org.
If you do favor RCV, keep up with the above described legislation and urge your elected state officials to vote for it. Getting better elections will require some nudging. After all, politicians got elected via our current voting system, and might be hesitant to change it. But, if they understand that RCV is important to many of their constituents, they certainly will be more likely to vote for it.
RCV is not a panacea for the problems that plague our democracy. Our problems run deep and solutions will certainly be complex and require soul-searching, hard conversations and hard work by all of us. In the meantime, RCV is low-hanging fruit that can help move us in the right direction.
Jane Ramberg, a retired biologist, lives in Twisp. Since her retirement, she has been actively engaged in high school civics education that’s devoted to inspiring young people to vote.