Voices & Choices

How ranked choice voting survives the 'one person, one vote' challenge

How ranked choice voting survives the 'one person, one vote' challenge

One of the most prominent arguments against ranked choice voting, outside its complexity, is that voters end up getting multiple votes, so it must violate the constitutional precedent of “one person, one vote.”

The problem with this argument is a fundamental misunderstanding of ranked choice voting and how it works. Voters don’t get multiple votes. They only get a single vote that counts toward the results.

So What About Ranked Choice Voting?

Most jurisdictions in the US use a choose-one voting method where voters cast a vote for a single person, and the person with the most votes wins.

In a system that at every institutional level tells voters there are only two viable options — Republican or Democrat — this causes many voters to cast their ballots strategically, leading to “lesser-of-two-evils” voting and vote splitting.

This could also mean candidates win without majority support in some cases — particularly in systems that do not have a runoff process.

Instant runoff voting (the most popular form of ranked choice voting among US reformers) is an alternative voting method that is designed to remedy these problems that affect voter choice and empowerment.

Opponents like Bruce Poliquin, who filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Maine’s ranked choice voting system, argue this gives people multiple votes. Yet this is either a fundamental misconception or a grave and intentional deception.

Voters aren’t casting a ballot for more than one candidate. They are expressing their preferences and only their choice in the final round of tabulation counts toward the results.

The technical term is single transferable vote. The idea is to show how these voters would ultimately vote should runoff elections be needed to produce a winner with majority support without using additional taxpayer dollars and resources for new elections — elections that would have a much lower turnout.

Enhancing Voter Equality

“One person, one vote” means every vote cast should be treated equally under the law. Voters should have an equal say in who represents them. Opponents of alternative voting methods like ranked choice voting tend to apply an extremely strict and literal interpretation of what the precedent means.

The idea behind ranked choice voting is that voters can indicate on the ballot which candidate they prefer most without feeling like they are wasting their vote, while also declaring their preference for the top vote getters should no one get a majority.

In many ways, this upholds the precedent of “one person, one vote” better than the choose-one voting method, because it gives voters the confidence to express their true preference in an election while also ensuring they get an equal vote in the final results.

The choose-one method forces many voters to surrender their vote to the “lesser of two evils,” rather than voting their conscience, which limits real choice. That doesn’t empower the vote or ensure equality.

The US Constitution gives state and local governments fairly broad discretion in determining how elections are conducted within their jurisdictions. The process, however, should treat voters fairly and equally and not violate other provisions of the constitution.


This article was originally published by Independent Voter Network on Dec. 4 and has been edited for space and clarity.

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