Voices & Choices

Ranked Choice Voting recommended in revamped Iowa caucus plan

Ranked Choice Voting recommended in revamped Iowa caucus plan

After facing criticism for lack of accessibility, inclusivity and practicality in the 2016 election season, the Democratic National Committee proposed a series of reforms aimed at democratizing the caucus process.  

On Feb. 11, the Iowa Democratic Party took further steps toward embracing voting reform, unveiling an innovative plan for its caucuses that includes online ranked choice voting.

The plan, termed a “virtual caucus,” allows Iowa Democrats to electronically rank their candidates in order of preference on six predetermined days. The primary benefit is to allow people who cannot attend the live precinct caucuses—those who work in the 7 to 10 p.m. window in which they occur or who are otherwise unable to attend on a cold winter night—to participate in the democratic process.

In the Iowa Democratic caucus, candidates need to receive the support of at least 15 percent of caucus-goers to accrue any delegates. Ranked choice voting will not change that reality, as explained in an editorial in The Des Moines Register by David Redlawsk, chair of the University of Delaware Department of Political Science and International Relations:

“[The voters] will rank up to five candidates… from first to fifth choice. All first-choice votes will be counted and if all groups are viable the process is done. But that’s unlikely; some groups will probably fall below the 15 percent viability threshold. If so, the least-supported group will be eliminated and the first choice votes for that group reallocated according to second choices. This continues until only viable groups remain. RCV means most voters will be represented by their first choice, but those who are not will still be represented by a candidate they like.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price was quoted in The Register saying the plan would mark “the most significant changes to the Iowa Democratic Party caucuses since their inception in 1972.” However, delegate allocation still relies primarily on in-person caucus-goers. According to the terms of the proposed plan (which is now open to public comment), online voting would only account for a maximum of 10 percent of allocated delegates—even if the proportion of caucus voters who vote online exceeds 10 percent of the total voters.

While the proposed plan faces a protracted process of approval (it must receive the approval of the state and national Democratic parties, who will assess its feasibility) it is, encouraging to see ranked choice voting considered as a method to revolutionize our current electoral system.

Read the full plan here.

Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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