The need to reform America’s democracy is a desire felt across the political spectrum. Pew Research’s polling from 2020 shows that more than three in five Americans think the government needs “very major” reform, up from about a third in the 1990s. The very electoral structures that Americans have used election cycle after election cycle continues to produce political dysfunction, underrepresent marginalized groups, and reward polarizing candidates that secure narrow pluralities of the vote even when they lack the support of the majority.
The National Constitution Center convened a panel of pre-eminent constitutional scholars this past fall to study this issue in reference to the U.S. constitution, the oldest written constitution that has provided the foundation of America’s democracy for more than 230 years. A set of scholars across the political spectrum were asked to rewrite the constitution for the present day. Each group of scholars, including a progressive, conservative, and libertarian team, were asked to decide which rules and electoral structures would best represent America’s peoples and values from a modern vantage point.
While the field of constitutional scholarship may seem polarizing, with no new amendment added to the constitution in more than five decades, there was a significant amount of overlap between the ideas of each team of scholars. Ranked choice voting (RCV) was one place they agreed, as it is a bipartisan reform that has secured support from Republican and Democratic officials and states alike as it can better represent the interests of voters and ensure the winning candidate has the support of a majority of the electorate.
In both the conservative and progressive drafts of the constitution, the electoral college would be replaced with a popular vote that included RCV. In half of the last eight presidential elections, the winning candidate did not have the support of the majority of voters. Such changes, supported on both sides of the aisle, would ensure that all Americans could be confident that the president represents the majority of the country. “We looked to get rid of the Electoral College because it is a reflection of a very anti-democratic viewpoint about the way that we should select our President and we looked to rank choice voting as a better mechanism to select the President,” Professor Caroline Frederickson explained, leader of the progressive scholar team.
These changes would also replace America’s winner-take-all system, which allows for very few states to receive campaign attention, with an electoral system that would force candidate’s to compete for the votes of all Americans to secure majority support on a ranked choice ballot. “Having ranked choice voting and no Electoral College would ensure that the Presidential candidates were attentive to the entire United States, and not just to Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida,” Frederickson said.
Overall, the results of the National Constitution Center’s drafting project show that RCV is a bi-partisan reform that can appeal to both sides of the aisle. All Americans deserve an electoral system that considers the full scope of their choice and elects candidates that are supported by a majority of the electorate.