As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we’re excited to let you hear directly from a few RCV champions. Following our earlier post, “History-Making Women and the RCV Elections That Put Them in Power,” we reached out to some of the women we discussed to get their first-hand opinion on ranked choice voting (RCV) and women’s representation. We are extremely grateful to hear feedback from Becki Graham, who is the District 3 City Councilor from Las Cruces, New Mexico; Amber Rasmussen and Cristy Welsh, who are both City Councilors from Vineyard, Utah; and Jessica Haller, who is the Executive Director of 21 in ‘21 in New York City.
When asked about whether RCV impacted the success of their campaigns, Councilor Welsh responded it did not. However, Councilmember Rasmussen noted that she believed that it did, and Councilor Graham commented that, “A write-in candidate entered my race at the last minute, which did take my election from a ‘regular’ ballot to a ranked choice situation. As the write-in candidate collected less than 25 total votes, and I was able to pull off a decent percentage in the first round, my contest did not move to a ranked choice scenario.”
All three council members were asked what they would say to other women thinking about running in an RCV race. Councilor Rasmussen commented that, “It is an excellent opportunity to run for office in a friendly and cooperative way.” Councilor Graham noted that, “My contest was most challenged by name recognition: I was a first-time office seeker, while my primary opponent had run for several municipal offices. Worse, our names are sort of similar! I had to work hard on getting my name out there - very clearly - to make sure folks knew who I was. The more names on the ballot, the more you need to be sure your voters recognize you.”
Finally, Councilor Welsh told us about running in an RCV race, “While I think I would have won my campaign regardless, I felt ranked choice voting created a more pleasant, less divisive atmosphere when running.”
When asked whether they believe RCV impacted the tenor of their campaign, Councilor Welsh said, “Absolutely. Ranked choice voting promotes the idea that you don't want to alienate any groups, because you can in some way get a vote from anyone. Even if you're not their first choice, you can be their second, so you want to find all the commonalities you can.” Councilor Rasmussen noted that she believed that RCV did impact the tenor of her campaign and/or the behavior of her opponents.
Councilor Graham commented that, “I wasn't as concerned as I might have been when the 3rd candidate entered the race, as voters had already gone through an election cycle with RCV; there was a level of understanding among the electorate. RCV instructions were sent to all residents by mail by the city/county, and my campaign featured instructions, as well. The write-in candidate encouraged people to rank only himself and my other opponent, while my opponent claimed RCV was part of "the steal" (i.e., ‘stolen’ elections).”
During their concluding thoughts on RCV, Councilor Graham exclaimed, “Appreciate it as a voter!” Additionally, Councilor Welsh stated, “I don't know if there is a perfect voting system, but I do believe ranked choice voting is the better way to vote in this world of speed, information, and desire for choices.” Finally, Councilor Rasmussen also shared her concluding remarks.
“I believe ranked choice voting is a positive option, offering candidates the ability to work together less competitively, allowing voters to select multiple options for their leadership, and helping communities better understand what their priorities are. Citizens can mold a team of leaders rather than focusing on individuals, and they can do so by focusing on candidates strengths rather than weaknesses.” - Councilor Amber Rasmussen
We also had the privilege of chatting with Jessica Haller, an advocate for RCV and executive director of 21 in ‘21. In New York City during the Democratic primary, she stated that thanks to RCV, “There were the possibilities of different candidates working together in their campaigns, so it definitely changed the tenor of some of the campaigns and the conversations.” She also spoke about her experience as a candidate in the first RCV agreement in March 2021 and how RCV, “allowed for conversations. It changed the tenor of the conversation in allowing people to work together with their teams and then also an engagement with voters so it forced the candidate to talk… So the voter said, ‘hey, well, I’m voting for the guy you’re running against’ you could say, ‘that’s great, let me talk to you ‘cause I want your second place vote.”
In terms of how RCV impacts campaign conversations on issues, Haller stated that, “It might make it easier to say, ‘she and I have the same perspective on this issue so if this is your top issue, you can rank us 1 and 2.’”
As the conversation turned to women’s representation, Haller discussed her experience in New York City.
“We, for the first time ever have a ‘majority New York City Council’, that's majority women, majority women of color, so I think ranked choice voting enabled so many of these women to enter the arena to begin with. Ultimately RCV only changed the outcome of one race in New York City and it’s a very precarious win, meaning it was only by, like, 100 votes, meaning it’s going to be harder for them to hold on to their seat in the future. But, opening up who can run changed what we go here. I think it’s one of the reasons we ended up where we did.”
When asked about RCV’s track record of impacting government accountability, Haller doesn’t think RCV has had an impact. However, she said RCV still has the ability to have a positive impact in other areas.
“There are different, let’s call them good governance reforms or democratic reforms, that solve different problems. In my city, voter turnout is a huge problem. Ranked choice voting may help with voter turnout because if there are five people on the ballot, say, representing five different races and three different gender, and four different religions, since hopefully ranked choice voting encourages all of these different people to run, and the different communities will turn out to vote but we don’t know if that has proven as correct yet, and I don’t know that it reaches that far. Different good governance guidelines affect different things… you have to tie what the measure is to what your goal is, so, no, I don’t think it has gone beyond what it’s done as of yet but also in New York City, we’re new, so San Francisco, and California might have deeper experience there.”
Her final thoughts on RCV had to do with the need for municipalities to set up frameworks to utilize RCV as well as educate voters on how to use it.
“Ranked choice voting needs to exist, and the electoral systems in the local government, whether it’s a finance board or the voter communications, whatever those are, have to be marshaled to support it. What happened in New York City is there was not enough money or attention given to explaining to voters how it works, number one. Number two, the campaign finance board was slow to issue guidelines around, what can you do if you have a flier that says ‘vote for me one and vote for this person two.’ Or, ‘five of us are getting together as a slate’ so I think that that’s overlooked. I think that the candidates, at least the candidates at 21 in ‘21 supported in the 2021 election spent a lot of their own time and money bringing that voter education in different languages and different communities out to the communities. I also think there was a lot of pretending that it’s really complicated. And you know ‘this is complicated but I’m going to explain it.’ No, it's actually not really complicated.”
These women bear testament to RCV’s necessity and why we do the work we do here at FairVote. It was a pleasure to speak with and hear from them and we look forward to watching them continue their work. Ranked choice voting is the fastest growing voting reform in the nation for a reason: it is making elections more equitable, and in doing so, enhancing the strength of our democracy.