Ranked choice voting (RCV) brings voters closer to their representatives through their new power to rank candidates. RCV results in more representative outcomes and allows voters to support the candidate they like the most without helping elect the one they like the least.
RCV does something else that is critically important: it helps government better reflect our people. In RCV elections, candidates who are women and people of color have been particularly successful. FairVote reported in a 2018 study that, despite only slight demographic changes, people of color went from winning only 40% of the California Bay Area’s 53 seats elected by RCV to nearly 60% in the years after moving to RCV. RepresentWomen reports that, as of January 2020, women held fully half of the 12 mayoral seats that had been elected by RCV and 49% of city council seats across 14 cities. In 2018, Mainers elect their first woman governor after the winner went from 33% of the vote in the first choice voting tally in a seven-candidate Democratic primary to a big majority win.
Lessons from hiring studies may explain these results. The key change in these local uses of RCV is that a single election now always decides the outcome. As a result, candidate fields have grown larger and more diverse when voters make the final decision — with direct implications given what we have learned from the psychology of having more women and people of color among finalists for a job.
A Harvard Business Review article on studies on hiring practices reported the following: “When there was only one woman or minority candidate in a pool of four finalists, their odds of being hired were statistically zero. But when we created a new status quo among the finalist candidates by adding just one more woman or minority candidate, the decision makers actually considered hiring a woman or minority candidate.” Researchers found that the odds of hiring a woman were 79 times greater if there were at least two women in the finalist pool and the odds of hiring a person of color were astoundingly 193 times greater if there were at least racial minority candidates in the finalist pool.
In a year where the number of U.S. Senators and governors who are women are likely to stay below 24% and when the number of U.S Senators and governors who are Black will stay at 2%, a conversation about how to better reflect diversity is more timely than ever. Ranked choice voting offers real promise for change.