This year, overseas and military voters cast ranked choice voting ballots in five states. In fact, in advance of Louisiana’s 8:00 pm poll closing deadline this evening, thousands of ranked ballots will have been returned to the state’s election officials by military and overseas voters. The reason? Louisiana requires that a candidate win a majority (50% +1) of the vote in order to win on Election Day. If no candidate receives a majority, the state holds a runoff election a few weeks later in December between the top two vote getters. For military and overseas voters, this is a quick turnaround to receive and send back a second ballot, so they instead take advantage of the “instant runoff” benefits of ranked choice voting to participate on Election Day and in the runoff simultaneously.
Louisiana uses ranked ballots for military and overseas voters in federal elections in which a runoff election is possible, so that sending and receiving a second ballot for runoff elections isn't necessary. For these elections, overseas voters return two ballots before Election Day. On the first ballot, they select one candidate to receive their vote in the primary. On the second ballot, they rank candidates in order of preference so that if the election requires a runoff, their ballot counts for whichever remaining candidate was ranked higher.
Ranked ballots have been successful, which is why Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina have also used ranked ballots for military and overseas voters. Doing so allows these states to minimize the time gap between elections, should a runoff be necessary. Research shows that the longer the gap between elections, the further turnout declines in the runoff. It also helps ensure that military and overseas voters have a voice in both elections.
This election cycle, the state will fill an open seat for U.S. Senate. Naturally, the open seat has attracted a crowded field, with 23 candidates running at the outset. With so many folks running, the election will almost certainly go to a runoff election in December, making Louisiana’s use of ranked ballots all the more crucial.
State lawmakers would do well to expand the use of ranked ballots for all voters. By adopting ranked choice voting, they could continue to use their unique primary system without the low turnout and high costs associated with holding a runoff election in December. For now though, the state should be applauded for its innovative use of ranked ballots, which will serve to empower military and overseas voters this election cycle.
Image source: The U.S. Army