Voices & Choices

Competitive Races with more Choices see Improved Voter Participation

Competitive Races with more Choices see Improved Voter Participation

Usually, elections in the U.S. are dominated by fields with only two candidates who are seen as viable - particularly in general elections.  Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) allows larger fields of candidates to run in a race without producing a spoiler effect. A look at a number of these RCV elections shows that large fields of candidates actually cause more voters to participate in those races. 

An “undervote” occurs when a voter casts a ballot, but skips a particular race. For instance in the 2020 general election, a ballot which cast only a vote for President and left all local and state level races blank would be counted as an undervote for all those races. Lower quantities of undervotes indicate that more of the voters which cast a ballot chose to vote for that race in particular. 

The number of candidates running can be compared directly to the percentage of undervotes in a particular race. Using data pulled from a variety of RCV elections over the last 5 years, a graph of the two measures shows a clear pattern.

The data shows an inverse relationship between the number of candidates and undervotes. That is, RCV races with larger fields tend to attract a greater percentage of voters to participate in them. This relationship was determined to be statistically significant. This effect falls away the larger the field is, but is nevertheless present. The data suggests that fields with more than two candidates in RCV races actually create more voter enthusiasm. 

The argument for RCV becomes stronger when considering this data. The model suggests voters in fact desire more choices when considering their elected officials, rather than being intimidated..While a Single-Member District Plurality system tends to suppress large fields of candidates, RCV allows and even promotes competition. Voter participation in the U.S. has always been low, and initial data suggesting that voters might be receptive to the sort of races RCV encourages is promising. Expansion of RCV in the future could lead to larger candidate fields that better engage voters. 

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