Alabama Republicans today are voting in a runoff election for U.S. Senate to fill the seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Because no candidate in the August 15 primary election earned a majority of votes, the two top voter-getters, Justice Roy Moore and appointed U.S. Senator Luther Strange, are squaring off: Moore led in the first round with 39 percent to Strange’s 33 percent. The winner will face off Democrat Doug Jones, who won the Democratic primary outright. The Republican primary winner will be favored in a state where Donald Trump won by 28 percent in 2016.
It’s a great example of where ranked choice voting would make sense -- and, notably, some voters in Alabama already are casting ranked choice voting ballots, as it is one of five southern states that gives its overseas voters the right to cast a ranked choice voting (RCV) ballot in the primary.
The case for RCV is strong. It’s going to take Alabama almost 10 months to fill the seat because of a law that will result in three statewide elections. A large amount of money has been poured into this special election runoff, and the taxpayers are taking it on the chin.
Indeed, as a cost-cutting measure for taxpayers, State Representative Steve Clouse pre-filed a bill for the 2018 legislative session to save money by simply not having an election at all under similar circumstances, allow the interim appointed senator to serve longer, and then hold an election to coincide with next general election.
A fairer way for Alabama to save money would be to extend the right to cast ranked choice voting ballots to all voters, benefitting candidates, voters and the state’s coffers. Candidates will find themselves spending less money during their campaigns, voters would have the option to rank their candidates in order of preference (encouraging more civil campaigning from the candidates) and taxpayers save money by avoiding runoff elections.
The fact is, ranked choice voting is easy and could have benefited the citizens of Alabama on August 15. Simply, a candidate with a majority of first choices would have won. Since no-one won with a majority, rather than taking the top two candidates and holding another election, the candidate in last place would be eliminated and those ballots would be reallocated to a voter’s second choice. The process is duplicated until one candidate emerges with a majority of support. Allowing voters to rank their candidates in order of preference eliminates the expense of costly runoff elections.
Regardless of what happens today, Alabama can have a better process each time it holds a U.S. Senate or U.S. House vacancy -- and should consider adopting RCV to replace its regularly scheduled primary runoffs as well. It’s time to give voters a stronger voice in electing their leaders -- and save taxpayers money at the same time.