Ranked Choice Voting Around the World in October

Posted by Author Ryan Healy on October 19, 2016

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is commonly used around the world to democratically elect officials more fairly than with plurality voting. RCV is a voting system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates able to combine strong first choice support with the ability to earn second and third choice support. In September and October, millions of our friends in the Land of the Long White Cloud and Down Under both used RCV to elect local officials.

In New Zealand, a democratic innovator that was the first country to fully enfranchise women,  voters are using RCV to elect city mayors and city councils, including in the capital city of Wellington, as well as local health boards. New Zealand utilizes both single-winner RCV (also known as the “Alternative Vote” or “Instant Runoff Voting”) and multi-winner RCV (also known as the “Single Transferable Vote”).

Voting in New Zealand closed on October 8th. Polls had estimated that Wellington’s open seat mayoral election would be close, with no clear favorite among three top contenders (Labour candidate Justin Lester, and independents Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan). In the end, no candidate won a majority of first choices. First round leader, Lester, was the second choice of enough voters to be able to maintain his lead over Leggett and Coughlan and win the election.  Lester may have been able to reach out to more supporters of other candidates for their second choices than other candidates because his campaign was civil and positive: He campaigned on the slogan of  “Love Wellington”.

Across the country, New Zealand voters also chose members for 20 local health boards, which “plan, manage, provide and purchase” health care for Kiwis and often have annual budgets over a $NZ billion. In each of these elections, winners will be chosen using multi-winner RCV to elect 7 members to each board.  

In Australia, voters in the country’s largest state (New South Wales) cast RCV ballots for local councillors and mayors in September. Multi-winner RCV, which is used to elect councillors, allows for multiple candidates of the same party to run against each other, without fear of drawing votes from each other. In one council, the 8-member Byron Shire Council, we saw the Green Party take full advantage of multi-winner RCV, where all 4 Green party candidates were elected together. In fact, the Green Party likely could have won more seats, if they had ran more than four candidates! Independents and members of two other parties were also elected to the Council.

Millions of people in Australia’s second largest state, Victoria, are voting using RCV in local elections. Victoria utilizes both single-winner and multi-winner RCV for its various council positions and elections are expected to go smoothly.

Australia has long used RCV, but the use of RCV is notably on the rise in other English speaking nations with political parties in the U.K. and Canada utilizing ranked choice voting for their own elections. In Canada,  the Canadian Special Committee on Electoral Reform is currently investigating options for reform, including RCV (More information is available here).

With all these examples of functional RCV systems around the world, there is little reason why more jurisdictions in the US should not adopt RCV for their elections. RCV provides an opportunity for greater voter representation than our current system. RCV systems might allow popular third parties to gain a greater voice, as RCV reduces the fear of ‘throwing away a vote’. With ranked choice voting voters can rest assured that that they can vote for the candidates they most agree with, rather than making strategic decisions. With so much potential stemming from RCV, isn’t it time that America moves itself to grant more voter freedom?


Image courtesy: Phillip Capper



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