Voices & Choices

FairVote Webinar Rewind: The Success of RCV in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary

FairVote Webinar Rewind: The Success of RCV in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary

On Tuesday, July 21, FairVote hosted a webinar titled “The Success of RCV in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary.” Four election officials and ranked choice voting experts gathered to celebrate the success of ranked choice voting (RCV) in the presidential primaries and reflect on how officials can use these experiences to expand the use of ranked choice voting in the future. 

The webinar was moderated by FairVote senior communications fellow David Daley, and included panelists Vicki Hiatt, Chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, Maria Perez, Principal Consultant of Democracy in Action, Rosemary Blizzard, Education Director with the Ranked Choice Voting Research Center, and Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico Secretary of State. 

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  • Hiatt described the Kansas Democratic Party’s transition from a caucus to a vote-by-mail ranked choice ballot as intuitive and easy for voters to understand, because like a caucus, RCV allows voters to “rank who their choices were and if their candidate doesn’t hit viability, their vote still counts.” (9:11) 
  • Even in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kansas Democratic Party recorded a 27 percent increase in voter turnout, up from 8 percent turnout in 2016’s caucuses to 35 percent in 2020 (10:30). Hiatt attributes this to voters’ excitement of voting from home and excitement about using RCV, “because they knew regardless of what happened between now and election day, their vote would still count.” (11:20)
  • Perez emphasized the importance of voter education, which “should be happening 365 days of the year.” (13:10)
  • Perez also described Democracy in Action’s two-pronged strategy of working directly with state party leadership and helping them brainstorm a plan to provide RCV education to party leadership at the county level. (13:35)
  • When asked about how a state might incorporate RCV into future elections, Blizzard advised election administrators that they should “start planning up to a year in advance of an election day,” especially since implementation may require law changes and may face litigation battles.  (18:18)
  • Blizzard emphasized that overall, election officials and experts who want to implement RCV in future elections must “be timely and be consistent in messaging.” (22:04)
  • Toulouse Oliver wisely said, “Democracy begets democracy, participation begets participation, and we don’t want to sacrifice either of those things due to the health pandemic.” (23:50) She asserted the importance of keeping voters engaged and safe, because election officials “don’t want a single person in this country to have to choose between their health and their vote.” (24:17)
  • Toulouse Oliver attributed the success in RCV expansion to the fact that RCV has taken root in other localities and it is “becoming interesting to folks” while policy makers at the state and local level are also starting to have conversations about implementing it. (26:09)
  • Hiatt says that RCV worked very well in the Kansas case. (31:32) She said, “Most people understood the ballot quite well; it was very self explanatory and people had been given a heads up on what RCV is all about. The educational component is very important.”
  • When asked how she responds when people tell her RCV is confusing, Perez gave important advice. “Never lead with a how, lead with a why,” she said, because “they want to know why and how it’s beneficial to them as a voter. The ‘why’ is based on values.” (33:04)
  • Blizzard provided a helpful anecdote explaining how easy RCV can be. She described how, last December, her team sent 500 ballots to three different middle schools in her area and asked the students to fill out the ballots without any prior voter education. After a short survey, over 90 percent of the students told her team, “It was easy, I don’t get it, what’s the big deal?” (39:30)
  • Toulouse Oliver concluded the webinar by arguing that even now, before the 2020 general elections, “it’s not too soon to try to make this happen in 4 years for the 2024 election.” She advised election officials to start the process now, because “running elections is like changing a tire on a car while the car is moving.” (50:00)

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