Voices & Choices

Interview: How Unitarian Universalists Elected President with Ranked Choice Voting

Interview: How Unitarian Universalists Elected President with Ranked Choice Voting

On June 24, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) elected Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray as its ninth president. She was the winner of a three way race held with ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting. In the first round of the RCV election, Frederick-Gray received 40 percent of the vote, Rev. Jeanne Pupke received 32 percent of the vote, and Rev. Alison Miller received 28 percent of the vote. Because none of the candidates received 50 percent plus one in the first round, Rev. Miller was eliminated as the third place finisher. Ballot ranking Rev. Miller first were apportioned to the remaining two candidates based on who was ranked second. Rev. Frederick Gray picked up more support and won the instant runoff 57 percent to 43 percent (with another 2 percent of voters not ranking either Rev. Miller or Rev. Pupke in the final round.)

The use of RCV in this election ensured that people were more fairly represented and no one’s vote was wasted. It also required candidates to look for common ground since they are also competing to be a voter’s second choice.

I had the opportunity to speak with Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs, Co-Minister of Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul Minnesota and at the time of the election served as Secretary of the Unitarian Universalist Association, about the effectiveness of utilizing RCV in their recent election.

FairVote: This election was conducted with ranked-choice voting. Did this make the candidates campaign different?

Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs: It did make the campaigns different in that, in addition to saying, “please vote for our candidate” they also said, “if you’re not going to choose us as your first candidate, consider us being your second candidate.” So they were strategic with asking people who were not supporting them, to make them their second choice.

FairVote: What do you see as the strengths of ranked-choice voting?

Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs: Well in a controversial situation, where stability of leadership is key to the success of the effort, ranked choice voting can reach a conclusion more quickly than a multiple ballot approach. The election that I just oversaw was that kind of an election where we were having some issues in the larger organizations and the stability of the organization was enhanced by being able to move quickly and democratically through the process.

FairVote: Do you think instant runoff elections help elevate the quality of a debate, since candidates must also compete to be a voter's second choice? Does it encourage candidates to work with people they are running against?

Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs: I do think it encourages the candidates to work more closely together with one another more respectfully and also to explore the values that undergird their positions, their campaigns, because they’re having to choose among their opponents and really take a look at where their opponents values are leading them. That’s a little complicated; but, yes I think it does enhance the relationship among candidates.

FairVote: Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray won the first round of voting with 40 percent, and the instant runoff pushed her above 50 percent. Does that majority support feel important? Do you think she felt like she was in a stronger position to lead with a majority behind her, instead of winning a plurality?

Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs: Oh, sure she feels much more of a mandate for having a majority rather than a plurality; but, in our situation the bylaws would not allow for a plurality to be the deciding factor because it’s significant to have a majority position in a majority election. That’s significant to us.

The Rev. Robert L. Eller-Isaacs is Co-minister of Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photo Credit: UUA Flickr


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