Third Party Chances Are Slim Without Ranked Choice Voting

Posted by Ethan Fitzgerald on July 15, 2016

With the Democratic National Convention just weeks away, Tuesday’s news cycle was marked by Bernie Sanders’s long-awaited endorsement of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Reflecting on the impact of Sanders’s campaign, Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton but endorsed Sanders, published a blog titled “Bernie’s big legacy: 7 ways Sanders’s campaign inspired a revolution and changed politics”.

The piece focuses mainly on Sanders’s policy impact on the Democratic Party - identifying several issues to which he brought attention and even pulled Clinton to the left. It’s the final “legacy” listed by Reich though that is of most interest to the electoral reform community. Reich claims there is a “real possibility” the Sanders campaign could evolve into a third party if Democrats don’t begin to support more of his proposals.

While this idea is no doubt exciting to many on the political left, it ignores the reality of the way our first-past-the-post electoral system entrenches two party dominance. Without expanded use of ranked choice voting, third parties have little chance of gaining traction among the electorate. Even if they do, they run the risk of splitting the vote with ideologically similar parties (in this case, Democrats), and allowing the party they agree with least (Republicans) to win. On the right, conservatives who favor Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson may fear that voting for him will help Clinton, who may be their least-favored candidate win by taking a vote away from Donald Trump.

Reich is correct to point out that there are more than just two viewpoints in American politics and each deserves a seat at the table. But to ensure that every group has a real chance of winning representation, we need a level playing field for all perspectives. Innovations like ranked choice voting and fair representation can make this “real possibility” a reality.

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