Voices & Choices

Ranked choice voting reform on the rise in 2019

Ranked choice voting reform on the rise in 2019

With the 2018 midterm elections now a distant memory, talk has quickly turned to the upcoming presidential race.

But while #elections 2019 might not be trending on Twitter, this year includes more than a few significant electoral moments for ranked choice voting (RCV). As many as nine cities will use ranked ballots for the first time, while San Francisco voters will benefit from some long-awaited updates to their existing RCV ballots and voting equipment.

Even the cities where RCV is not new or updated, opportunities remain to prove the system’s benefits: protecting majority winners, eliminating vote-splitting, fostering civil and inclusive campaigns and empowering voters to make their choices count.

So amid the future forecasting over the ever-expanding list of presidential nominees - which also could feature RCV at least for proxy voters in caucus states -  don't overlook these more immediate elections and the chance to celebrate ranked choice voting.

Here are a few high points for upcoming year:

  • San Francisco: After 15 years, RCV is no longer novel among voters in this Bay Area city. But 2019 offers some exciting updates, most notably that new voting equipment will empower voters to include up to 10 rankings per race, replacing the prior limit of three. This will come in handy in what could be several contentious, crowded races, including the special election for the District 5 and district attorney race. Contests for mayor, city attorney, sheriff and treasurer will also be decided by RCV.
  • Memphis, TN: Riding high on the celebration from staving off an attempted repeal on the 2018 ballot, Memphis voters can at last experience RCV as they originally backed in 2008. Pending resolution on administrative and implementation details, ranked choice voting is on track to arrive in time for the city’s October elections, replacing the existing two-round runoff system with a single ‘instant runoff.’
  • Las Cruces and Santa Fe, New Mexico: After a successful debut of RCV in its 2018 mayor and council elections, Santa Fe will get a second go-round with RCV for council seats thanks to a voter-approved switch in city election schedules. Meanwhile, Las Cruces will launch its inaugural ranked choice elections for some council seats (council members serve staggered terms).
  • Utah: Thanks to enabling legislation passed with bipartisan support in 2018, up to six Utah cities - Cottonwood Heights, Lehi, Payson, Salem, Vineyard and West Jordan - could bring RCV to their 2019 municipal elections. While implementation logistics remain a work in progress - with support anticipated through pending legislation and from local leaders of Utah Ranked Choice Voting - these cities have indicated their interest by meeting preliminary opt-in requirements.
  • St. Paul and St. Louis Park, MN: Voters in Minnesota’s capital will once again rank their choices for all seven city council seats in the upcoming election, continuing the city’s successful track record of RCV which began in 2011. Meanwhile, St. Louis Park will follow in the footsteps of the Twin Cities with its first ranked choice voting election for mayoral and council seats.
  • Portland, ME: On the heels of the historic rollout of RCV for Maine’s federal representatives in 2018, RCV will return to its roots this November for the Portland mayoral race. Although not new - Portland has used RCV for mayoral races since 2011 - the upcoming election has already attracted attention with several challengers expected to contest the incumbent.
  • Telluride, CO: With months to go before the August filing deadline, it’s too soon to know whether the 2019 mayoral contest will feature ranked ballots. At least three candidates must compete to trigger ranked choice voting, an occurrence which has happened twice since the town adopted the provision in 2008.
  • Cambridge, MA: Fair and representative elections will once again flourish in Cambridge’s 2019 elections. The city uses a multi-winner form of ranked choice voting known as fair representation voting to elect its at-large city council and school committee members, a tradition that dates back to 1941. While news about the upcoming elections remains relatively scarce, history indicates the races will be competitive and diverse, with high turnout and representative outcomes across the board.


Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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