Georgia Senate runoffs show us that ranked choice voting is the best idea
We are now just days away from the Senate runoffs in Georgia, which will decide party control of the upper chamber of Congress. These elections have garnered national attention and there has been massive campaign spending on both sides, with a great deal of funds from out of state. The runoffs have increased political division, and there has been ridiculous posturing over the economic stimulus from the candidates.
The Senate runoffs in Georgia are indicative of the ultimate failures of our current “first past the post” voting system, which has created a number of circumstances where the specter of control of the political process gets lodged in the electoral process of one state. This is precisely the reason we need systemic reforms to our voting system that will lead us to a more functional and also more representative democracy.
One of the best solutions is to use ranked choice voting, which would allow the full scope of political views to be reflected in government, instead of the radical extremes of the two major parties. Ranked choice voting would encourage consensus building and discourage divisive agendas. Its value for both parties is that, as a political strategy, it does not force national candidates to run base campaigns.
On the other hand, our current “winner take all” voting system allows two parties to dominate our government, which leads to extreme candidates with extreme policies. This hurts our democracy because it gives voters less choices, shuts out independents, and then leads to gridlock. As the New York Times wrote last year, our voting system fuels “candidates with passionate followings, like Bernie Sanders, as it helped Donald Trump in 2016, but it produces nothing like consensus candidates.”
Moreover, Americans concur that ranked choice voting is the way forward. Legislation for it passed in Utah and Virginia last year, and it won approval seven out of eight times on the ballot, most notably in Alaska, which joins Maine to use ranked choice voting for its elections. However, Republicans and conservative groups have often been the face of the opposition to ranked choice voting initiatives across the country.
In Massachusetts, the Democrats were in favor of ranked choice voting last year. They included both senators, the attorney general, and many state lawmakers. The Republicans came out against it but not hard. It seemed that ranked choice voting was headed for victory until, with a week to go, Governor Charlie Baker came out against it. His rejection swayed independents and raised opposition. In the end, ranked choice voting had the most “yes” votes and “no” votes in history.
The reason is that Republicans in Massachusetts followed what occurred in Maine with the second district doing for Democrats in 2018, despite the fact that their candidate won a plurality in the first round. The legal team of Trump even went to court to seek to undo the new legislation which allowed ranked choice voting for president in the state.
Conservative groups across the country have come out against ranked choice voting, as has the Wall Street Journal. But the adoption of ranked choice voting can be just as or more positive for Republicans. In 2020, they bemoaned how Trump lost votes to the libertarian candidate, which would not have occurred with instant runoffs in a ranked choice voting election. Indeed, if Georgia used ranked choice voting, there would be no runoffs, and the Senate would be secure for Republicans.
For both parties, the value of ranked choice voting is that it does not force national candidates to run base campaigns. The candidates can welcome more extreme competitors who will not spoil his or her votes but who will increase turnout. If ranked choice voting allows for unaffiliated candidates to do better, then consider how Ross Perot allowed the Democrats and the Republicans to balance the federal budget back in 1992.
Republicans should take these considerations into account and support future ranked choice voting initiatives. Not only can ranked choice voting benefit both parties, but it will also make our democracy fairer and freer, and one that is actually by the people and for the people.
Peter Ackerman is the founder for Americans Elect. Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as adviser to Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg.