Last weekend, the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee elected Derek Eadon to a two year term as the party’s chair. This was the first election for state chair using a single, ranked choice voting ballot. In a crowded field of seven candidates, ranked choice voting allowed the committee to efficiently elect Eadon with a majority of the vote and choose a candidate who seems to have earned consensus support from different factions within the party.
Ahead of the election, some in the party were concerned about a divisive outcome. The two candidates seen as the strongest contenders represented the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders “wings” of the party, and observers feared that win for either would alienate party members who had supported the other candidate during the presidential caucuses. With five other candidates running for chair, either candidate - or a third, even less-widely liked candidate - could have won with a small fraction of the vote if a plurality or “first past the post” system were used.
Instead, Eadon is seen as bridging the two factions within the party as a consensus winner. Using ranked choice voting, Iowa Democrats did not just ensure that the election would be won with a majority of the vote in the final round. Every voter was able to express their full preference from the outset of the election, without the need for strategic voting or deal-making along the way. The result is both a consensus behind the party’s leadership, and new energy too. Democratic observers have hailed the youth of those chosen in this year’s elections.
These leadership elections show how ranked choice voting can be a valuable tool or state parties around the country. In general, parties do already have majority requirements for such contests, but usually rely on “repeated voting,” which takes up valuable meeting time. Iowa Democrats also saw benefits in voters needing to learn about the candidates beforehand enough so that they could rank all the candidates, as they required for a valid ballot.
Both major parties have used ranked choice voting in key contests, including the Republican Party in Utah. The Iowa Democratic Party has used ranked ballots to elect other positions before and is one of several state parties to support ranked choice voting in its platform. Internationally, ranked choice voting is even more common. It has been used for nominations by all the major parties in Canada, including in the current leadership election for the Conservative Party, and most parties in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. As other parties look ahead, they should take note of the way ranked choice voting can be used to build consensus and fully represent members in their leadership.
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