For our latest “Voices & Choices” podcast, Lawrence Lessig and Adam Eichen of Equal Citizens sat down with Nancy Lavin, FairVote staff writer, to talk about their efforts to bring ranked choice voting to New Hampshire’s presidential primaries: how it works and why it matters. The pair also share the origins of their interest in electoral reform, and Lessig looks back on his own presidential run in 2016. The following is an excerpt from that interview, slightly edited for clarity.
Lessig: New Hampshire is maybe the most important primary in the presidential system not just because it's the first primary, but because presidential candidates spent a year getting to know those people and getting to know them very intimately and closely. They're in people's living rooms. And so, in some sense, America delegates to New Hampshire an extremely important first step in selecting our president. The great opportunity that ranked choice gave us was that the people in New Hampshire could speak more meaningfully to determine the winner of that primary. There's going to be a dozen or more real contenders in their primary. And if we could know not just who happens to get the most votes on the first ballot, but who - when you wipe away the people at the fifth and sixth and seventh spot - people coalesced around, then we could really learn something important from the people of New Hampshire about which candidate could really speak for the Democratic Party.
Lavin: How does being able to rank multiple choices on a ballot prevent some of the problems that voters and party leaders are worried about going into the 2020?
Lessig: I think that we're forgetting in America that the idea of democracy is majority rule. What that means is at least 50 percent of the public supports a particular candidate. And when you've got in the presidential race when you've got three or four candidates like we had in the last cycle, you face a real choice of doing exactly what happened in 2016, which is to elect a candidate who, because of our Electoral College, didn't even win the plurality let alone a majority of votes. Ranked choice voting.allows people to tell us all the people that they could live with ...so that the final person is someone in the general election who gets at least 50 percent of the vote. We can begin to elect leaders who could speak for a majority.
Eichen: Especially in such a crowded primary field, the incentive is to try and stand out, to say outlandish things to attack your primary opponents. The current incentives right now are to do whatever it takes to make it through and party be damned. And that's not also good for the party. The party shouldn't want that. What ranked choice voting would do in a crowded primary is incentivize candidates to think about, ‘well, I don't want to bruise everyone else because their voters may choose me second.’ So there's an incentive to really reach across the all sorts of aisles to appeal to all different types of voters. And that's important in a primary, and the party would be strengthened rather than bruised.
Listen to the podcast here.