People are realizing now more than ever that fixing American democracy begins with how politicians are elected into office. The division displayed in our politics today shows the need for realizing the promise of our democracy with reforms that would change politics for the better, including how we elect representatives into office in the first place.
A collection of contributions from dozens of writers and artists in “Fix this Democracy -- Now” in the Washington Post Magazine outlines 38 ideas for “repairing our badly broken civic life,” including New America Foundation CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cogent case for ranked choice voting (instant runoff voting) to give voters greater choice. By allowing voters to rank candidates first, second, third (and so on) in order of their preference, this simple change avoids the “spoiler problem.” When more than two candidates are running, if no candidate receives a majority after the first ballot count, then the candidate in last place is eliminated. Those voters who selected that candidate as a first choice have their ballot instantly counted for their next choice. This process repeats itself until one candidate receives a majority of votes, and is declared the winner.
We would add another idea to those posted in the Washington Post article: the fair representation form of ranked choice voting. In 2015, FairVote conducted a project assessing the impact of 37 structural reforms and asked fourteen leading scholars on electoral reform to rate structural reforms on their impact on 20 measures in our democracy.
The assessment revealed the five structural reforms that would have the greatest positive impact on American democracy were: ranked choice voting in five-winner districts, ranked choice voting in three winner districts, “district plus” (a mixed-member proportional system), and two variations of the single-winner form of ranked choice system promoted by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The scholars collectively agreed that these reforms would have the most significant impact of those structural reforms that were evaluated. You can read more about the results of the project, Comparative Structural Reform, here.
This reform has now been introduced in Congress. With assistance from FairVote, Representative Don Beyer introduced the Fair Representation Act (HR 3057), a bill seeking to provide a new, national voting standard designed to achieve fairer congressional elections in all 50 states.
The proposal’s three key elements are: multi-winner districts, ranked choice voting and independent redistricting. These combine to establish fair representation, not winner-take-all elections, and would ensure winning candidates reflect different perspectives within each district. They also lead to greater representation for women and people of color, as well as more voices within the parties, more space for independent candidates, and new voices added to the political conversation.
As Slaughter rightly argues, it’s time to spread ranked choice voting widely throughout the United States, and it is encouraging to see its progress. Implementing the Fair Representation Act would be an additional powerful step in achieving a stronger democracy, accurate representation, and open elections to help reflect our full diversity.