Crowded Field Could Lead to Severe Vote Splitting in Louisiana Senate Race

Posted by Ben Fogarty on September 09, 2016

With twenty-four candidates running, the race to replace outgoing U.S Senator David Vitter in Louisiana is one of the most hotly contested elections this year. Competition is emblematic of a healthy democracy. And while Louisiana's runoff system already helps address crowded races like this, the staggering amount of competition this year could still leaves voters in a tough situation. 

In Louisiana, all candidates go to the November ballot without an earlier primary. That increases voter choice in most elections, but a recent piece in The Hill describes how the large field of candidates will likely cause severe vote-splitting, preventing any candidate from winning anything close to a majority of votes and triggering a runoff election between two candidates that might both have relatively limited support.

On the one hand, a runoff upholds majority rule. But taking a large field down to two candidates after voters cast one vote can benefit candidates with a small, fervent base of support. Candidates with the most fervent support may not necessarily be the candidates with the broadest support. Even with a runoff election, vote-splitting can allow two candidates with narrow support to advance, leaving voters with a tough choice.

To prevent this scenario, some voters may feel pressured to assess candidates not only on their policy proposals but also on their chances of winning. If a voter does not feel like their favorite candidate can win, they may decide to vote for a candidate they prefer less to avoid feeling like they helped elect someone they vehemently oppose.

Ranked choice voting offers a number of approaches to prevent these tough situations. By allowing voters to rank their choices, it eliminates vote splitting and helps to produce consensus winners with majority support. Several cities use ranked choice choice voting to elect a winner in one round. Other approaches might include using ranked choice voting to reduce the field to two candidates before any necessary runoff or reducing the field to four candidates instead of two, then using ranked choice voting to pick the winner in what FairVote calls the "Top Four Primary."

Regardless, the crowded Senate race in Louisiana is just another example of how ranked choice voting can contribute to a healthy democracy.

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