Voices & Choices

Challenges to Representation in the Maryland Gubernatorial Democratic Primary

Challenges to Representation in the Maryland Gubernatorial Democratic Primary

This week, Our Maryland released their 2022 Gubernatorial Democratic Primary straw poll. For a distinctly competitive race, the Our Maryland poll aims to measure, in-depth, the distribution of support for the primary’s 10 Democratic candidates. Though the July 19 election will use a plurality voting system, Our Maryland’s poll will use ranked choice voting (RCV) to find the most popular winner among the primary candidates.

In a crowded election, such as Maryland’s gubernatorial primary, votes frequently end up split between similar candidates. This leaves the possibility that a candidate who most voters oppose could win the election with only a plurality. Under plurality voting, a candidate needs more votes than any other individual to win, but not necessarily more than the others combined. A candidate could achieve a plurality and win the seat with a minority of votes cast. The more candidates there are in the election, the lower the threshold is for a candidate to win. A plurality winner from Maryland’s 10 candidates could leave up to 89.9% of voters unrepresented.

In contrast, RCV leaves more voters represented in the outcome of an election. In a single-winner election, if no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to their voters’ second choices. This cycle repeats until somebody achieves a majority, ensuring that the final elected representative has support from a broad set of voters. This is especially pertinent in highly competitive elections, where votes are split between multiple similar candidates.

The 2021 New York City primary election put this idea to the test, becoming the largest city-wide RCV election in American history. Like this year’s Maryland gubernatorial election, NYC’s mayoral Democratic primary was crowded, with 13 candidates on the ballot. By eliminating vote splitting, the election produced an NYC mayor with deep support across the city. It was a successful display of RCV and attests to the power of RCV to find a consensus among even the most crowded fields.

The NYC election also showed the power of RCV to support candidates of color. A FairVote study on how Ranked Choice Voting Elections Benefit Candidates and Voters of Color found that RCV prevents ‘vote splitting’ among candidates of the same racial or ethnic backgrounds—encouraging more minority candidates to run, and encouraging candidates to build community-wide support.

So how might Maryland’s election have looked different if it used an RCV system? In a state where 41.7% of the population is Black or Hispanic, but there has never been a Governor of color, RCV could have brought the electoral change needed to support representation in Maryland. Without it, Maryland’s plurality system will likely see vote-splitting among the 4 minority candidates, once again preventing Black and Hispanic Marylanders from being represented in the state’s highest office.

Though it’s too late for RCV to be implemented for this upcoming gubernatorial primary, local groups are working towards a more fair electoral system in Maryland. You can take action by joining a state reform group such as Ranked Choice Voting Maryland.

Note: The Maryland Gubernatorial Primary Election will be held on July 19 and the registration deadline is June 28.

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