The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unanimously approved the proposals of two state Democratic parties to implement ranked choice voting (RCV) ballots in selecting a presidential nominee in 2020. (See FairVote’s news release.)
This decision comes in response to the contentious 2016 primary fight, after which the DNC called on its state affiliates to make the presidential candidate selection process more accessible to voters. Hawaii and Kansas are both caucus states that turned to RCV and vote-by-mail in party-run primaries in response to that call—and today, the DNC accepted their proposals, with Alaska and Wyoming, which have similar plans, waiting in the wings. Here’s how the plans work:
In Kansas, the state Democratic Party will hold a ranked choice voting primary on May 2nd, involving some 400,000 registered Democratic voters and a ballot that allows five rankings. According to state party secretary George Hanna, adopting ranked choice voting will not be much of a shock for Kansans—because RCV resembles Kansas’s typical caucus process.
“Rank[ed] choice voting essentially is caucusing by paper. You are going to pick your first choice of the candidates that are available, your next choice … and rank them.” Hanna said.
Additionally, RCV will help Kansas solve a unique dilemma: the filing deadline for candidates is in February, but the Kansas primary is in May. That means that numerous candidates who drop out of the race by May will still appear on the Kansas primary ballot. RCV helps ameliorate any fears of wasted votes on terminated candidacies by simply transferring votes for eliminated candidates to backup second and third choices.
In Hawaii, the state Democratic party switched to a RCV primary in a bid to broaden participation. Thus, when Democratic voters participate in March early voting and head to the polls on April 4, they will have the opportunity to rank their top three choices..
Grassroots activists were strongly supportive in each of these states, as we summarized this week. Although the approved plans indicate the states aim to implement RCV in slightly different fashions, each plan adheres to rules set by the Democratic Party: all candidates above the 15 percent threshold will accrue delegates. Accordingly, as FairVote Senior Fellow David Daley put it, using RCV guarantees “last-place candidates will be eliminated and backers of those candidates will have their vote count toward their next choice until all remaining candidates are above the 15 percent vote threshold to win delegates.”
While we hope more states adopt RCV in their future presidential primaries (as one example, Maine is set to implement RCV in the 2024 primary as well as the 2020 general election), it is heartening to see these three states make use of ranked choice voting ballots in this election as a viable alternative to the current winner-take-all system—especially in a field this crowded.
We applaud these state Democratic parties and the DNC in allowing voters more voice and choice in selecting their nominee. We look forward to Alaska and Wyoming joining them, as expected. This is a first in our country’s history and an unequivocal step forward for democracy.