With much of the country’s political oxygen consumed by the 2020 elections and the race for the White House, it’s easy to forget that there are countless local and state contests happening next week, including two races for governor and a battle for control of the Virginia state legislature. Notably, in these elections, hundreds of thousands of voters across 11 cities have the opportunity to use ranked choice voting (RCV) to elect their preferred candidates.
Here’s a primer of the 11 cities featuring ranked choice voting this fall, a total which includes five first-time uses. In fact, this year's contests will mark a record for the sheer amount of RCV elections on the same day, and that’s before taking into account the two cities voting on ballot measures to enact RCV: New York City and Easthampton, MA.
Cities using RCV for the first time:
Las Cruces, New Mexico: Voters in Las Cruces, New Mexico’s second largest city, will now have the freedom to rank their preferred candidates. Pay particularly close attention to the city’s mayoral race, featuring a slate of 10 viable candidates (voters can rank the full field), to see how ranked choice voting alters the dynamics of the city’s elections. After the city council voted unanimously to use RCV in June 2018, the Las Cruces Sun-News editorial board said, “We believe that ranked choice voting will lead to better elections. And that, ultimately, will produce better leaders for our city.”
St. Louis Park, Minnesota: Thanks to FairVote Minnesota’s efforts to educate voters and lobby legislators to support ranked choice voting, Minnesota continues to be a beacon of democracy reform. Last year, the St. Louis Park city council voted unanimously to adopt RCV, and now the city will use RCV for the first time in its city council and mayoral elections.
Eastpointe, Michigan: The Eastpointe, MI city council voted to adopt a proportional representation form of RCV in response to a DOJ Voting Rights Act lawsuit. The city will use single-transferable vote, a form of multi-winner RCV, to ensure all voters receive fair representation in municipal government. Only two seats are up, which means it still will take more than a third of the vote for a candidate to win -- but RCV is a key breakthrough and represents the first new city council election with ‘the single transferable vote” since the 1950s.
In a press release, Eastpointe mayor Suzanne Pixley was quoted as saying, “We are eager to be the first city in the State of Michigan to implement ranked-choice voting for our City election and look forward to positive results with the change.”
Payson, Utah and Vineyard, Utah: Payson and Vineyard, in taking advantage of a statewide RCV local option legislation pilot program that passed with bi-partisan support in May 2018, will forgo their traditional primaries and instead implement a ranked choice voting election. Because the focus is replacing primaries, the multi-winner elections (for three seats in Payson and two in Vineyard) are a winner-take-all form of RCV where each seat is effectively filled by a single winner RCV tally before new tallies are conducted without the initial winners to fill additional seats.
RCV has previously been championed by Republicans in Utah in elections run by the party to fill state legislative vacancies and replace party leaders.“Utah cities are opting to use ranked choice voting, and we are looking forward to our first ranked choice voting elections this November,” said Rep. Marc Roberts (R-UT). “We’re excited to keep doing everything we can to advance ranked choice voting in Utah.”
Cities with long-standing use of RCV:
San Francisco, California: Ranked choice voting has been a staple of San Francisco’s mayoral and municipal elections since 2004, where it has been correlated with increased candidate diversity and voter turnout. This year’s municipal elections—headlined by a heavily scrutinized District Attorney race—will feature an upgraded ballot that will allow voters to rank up to 10 candidates.
Portland, Maine: The largest city in Maine, a state that has taken the lead on adopting ranked choice voting, has used ranked ballots for its mayoral elections since 2011. This year’s tight race for mayor will likely feature the method, which former mayor Mike Brennan credited with making the city’s campaigns more positive and inclusive. This cycle, incumbent Ethan Strimling is in a highly competitive RCV contest against three challengers.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge has used the at-large form of ranked choice voting, an American form of proportional representation, to elect its nine-seat City Council and six-seat School Committee since 1941. The continued use of RCV has led to fair representation for women and people of color in the city and, as usual, the elections are highly competitive.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: In 2018, Santa Fe held its first mayoral and city council elections with ranked choice voting. Following a positive campaign, the election was successful, with a surge in turnout for a mayoral election. This year, RCV will likely be featured in the city’s one competitive city council race.
Telluride, Colorado: When Telluride adopted ranked choice voting in mayoral races that featured more than two candidates in 2008, it ushered in “a new era of collective problem-solving” in the town. This year’s municipal elections will be the last with RCV unless Telluride voters affirmatively vote to keep the method before its next mayoral election in 2023..
St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota’s second-largest city will utilize RCV in its city council elections, which feature more than two dozen candidates. The city will conduct a hand count to ensure accuracy in the results as it awaits the county’s receival of RCV-ready voting equipment.
We are excited by expanded use of RCV and applaud our state-based allies in their fight for a better democracy.
While you’re here, check out our latest list of jurisdictions with RCV, which, in 2020, will expand to Benton County (OR), major party presidential primaries, and the presidential race in Maine.