“Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends.” More than two centuries after Thomas Jefferson issued this warning in a speech in Maryland, majority rule remains a standard by which to measure the strength of our democracy. But majority rule is more than just a good government principle. It’s a practical part of creating legitimacy around elections and the people who win them.
Case in point: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly. Despite successfully winning the November election - flipping an office long-held by Republicans - Kelly continues to face opposition from Republican lawmakers. As described in a recent Associated Press article, many of Kelly’s proposals failed before the Republican-majority state legislature, creating deadlock and stagnation for policy reform in health care, funding and taxes.
While a faceoff between political parties is nothing new, Kelly’s challenge stems not just from ideological disagreement, but also doubts over the legitimacy of her election victory. The Democrat claimed the governorship with 48 percent of the vote, besting Republican candidate Kris Kobach by a smaller margin than the 6.5 percent of votes cast for independent candidate Greg Orman.
Orman, who prior to Election Day was polling even higher, was pressured to drop out amid concerns that he would siphon away votes from the major party nominees and lead to an unrepresentative outcome.The fact that Republicans retain control of the state legislature only exacerbated the case for those unwilling to accept Kelly’s victory in a deep red state.
Kelly’s challenge demonstrates exactly why we need majority rule in elections - not only as a principle or best practice but as a practical assurance to legitimize outcomes and give elected officials strong mandates to govern. By requiring winners to earn a majority of votes - if not in first choices alone then with backup choices - ranked choice voting (RCV) meets both of these critical needs. At the same, RCV evens the playing field, letting candidates of all backgrounds and political ideologies compete without being cast as “spoilers” and freeing voters from fear of vote-splitting.
Whether RCV would have changed the outcome remains unclear. What is clear is Orman would not have been called to drop out, and whoever won would done so with proven majority support among the voters.
While Jefferson didn’t live to see the success of RCV in transforming our elections, his focus on majority rule certainly suggests support for the voting method that protects it.