Voices & Choices

Kentucky Senate Primary Highlights Need for Ranked Choice Voting

Kentucky Senate Primary Highlights Need for Ranked Choice Voting

After a week of waiting, the results are officially in: former Marine Amy McGrath has won Kentucky’s June 23 Democratic Senate Primary and will take on incumbent Mitch McConnell in November’s general election. 

With 95 percent of the expected vote in as of press time, McGrath leads state legislator Charles Booker by more than 15,000 votes—granting her a 2.8 percent margin of victory. But there’s a problem: McGrath only garnered 45.4 percent of the total vote, as more than 65,000 votes were cast for other candidates—i.e., not for McGrath or Booker—in the race. That means that McGrath, the candidate who will square off against one of the most powerful men in America in a pivotal Senate race, did not receive a majority (50%+1) from her party’s electorate. 

First-past-the-post primaries—where candidates who garner the most votes win even if they don’t attract majority support—are a staple of the American political process. Unfortunately, as in the cases of the Democratic Senate Primary or Kentucky’s 3rd District GOP Primary, they fail to produce winners selected by the majority of their party’s electorate.

Fortunately, a solution exists: ranked choice voting (RCV).

RCV, by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference, conducts an “instant runoff” process if no candidate achieves a majority of first-choice support. This ensures that whoever eventually emerges from a party primary victorious has the support of a majority of the party’s electorate. Furthermore, RCV guarantees that similarly-oriented candidates do not “split the vote” and unintentionally throw the election to a factional candidate.

Would RCV have changed the results of the Kentucky Primary? Without comprehensive second-choice polling, it’s impossible to tell.

Might supporters of Mike Broihier (the Andrew Yang-endorsed third place candidate who garnered more than 27,000 votes) overwhelmingly have ranked the Bernie Sanders-endorsed Booker—a fellow supporter of Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income—as a second choice, allowing Booker to gain majority support?

Or would a combination of Broihier’s supporters and other candidates’ backers have ranked McGrath second, ensuring her victory—albeit with majority support?

We will never know the answer to those hypothetical questions, but we do know this indisputable fact: if RCV had been used in the primary, the winning candidate would have emerged with majority support—and a strong mandate from the party headed into November.


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