Ranked choice voting evens election power dynamics

Last summer, I went to vote in the Democratic primaries for the New York City mayoral election and was met at the ballot by a new voting system. Instead of the usual system where a voter would only choose their preferred candidate to vote for, I was given the option of voting for up to five different candidates, as well as a write-in candidate. I proceeded to rank the candidates in order of my personal preference, knowing that if my number one choice did not win, my vote would still have an impact on the outcome of the election.

This new phenomenon is called ranked-choice voting (RCV), and it needs to be implemented in all 50 states. Currently, RCV is only available statewide in Alaska and Hawaii, and has been applied to certain United States cities such as New York City,  San Francisco, Minneapolis and several others. 

So what exactly is RCV? It’s exactly what its name implies. Voters are given a list of candidates to choose from and can rank those candidates in order of preference. Then, the ballots are counted, and if no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. The votes that ranked the eliminated candidate first then become first-place votes for their second-choice candidate. The process moves on, eliminating candidates until one remains. 

The main appeal of RCV is that it ensures that every vote will have an impact in elections, compared to the current system where if neither of the top two candidates appeals to you, your vote will likely not affect the outcome of the election. RCV ensures that the candidate who most widely represents the field of voters will win the election, forcing candidates to appeal to more voters.

RCV also does not force voters to rank five candidates. If only one candidate appeals to you, you may rank them first and leave the other four spots blank. Furthermore, in RCV elections, the candidate who receives the most first-place votes often wins the election. 

In the aforementioned New York City mayoral Democratic primary election, Eric Adams earned 30.8% of first-place votes on the first count, while Kathryn Garcia placed third with 19.6% of first-place votes. After each ranked vote was counted, however, Adams narrowly won over Garcia 50.4% to 49.6%, creating a closer race that accurately represented the interests of New York City voters. During the process of RCV, Maya Wiley, who initially received more first-place votes than Garcia, was eliminated because Garcia received more second-place votes.

After seeing RCV play out in New York City, it’s obvious to me that the system needs to be implemented in New Jersey and across all 50 states. RCV creates a system where candidates can no longer rely on appealing to certain groups and ensures that the values of the voter population are accounted for.



Photo courtesy of Cottonbro, Pexels.