RCV for Presidential Nominations

The 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is crowded and competitive with multiple candidates already in the race. With so many candidates on the ballot, the single-choice method used to award delegates limits voters’ expression and threatens to produce a nominee without broad support.  

Ranked choice voting offers a solution that allows voters more power and freedom to rank their choices on the ballot, casting meaningful votes that produce a broadly supported nominee worthy of representing the party in the general election.

As of October 2019, we expect four state Democratic parties to use ranked choice voting ballots in all their contests and the Nevada Democratic Party to make use of RCV ballots for their early voters. We provide more details in this news release and this longer FAQ.

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Rank the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominees

The bigger the Democratic 2020 presidential field grows, the more we need ranked choice voting! Try it for yourself by ranking your choices with our new Democratic Presidential Nominee RCV poll. 

What’s wrong with the way we vote now?

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

The presidential nomination process often produces undemocratic results, especially with a large number of candidates. Just as we saw in the Republican nomination in 2016, the large field of 2020 Democratic contenders threatens to produce a nominee without broad support from the party. Candidates with similar platforms, experiences or demographic characteristics can split supporters and votes, potentially helping another, more polarizing candidate take the lead. Meanwhile, candidates seen as longshots are pressured to drop out, winnowing the field not based on voters’ choices but because of the limits of a single-choice system. And when it comes time to mark their ballots, voters often feel forced to vote strategically, rather than selecting the person they like best or who best represents them. All this for the increasing likelihood of a contested convention that leaves voters feeling even more disenchanted and the party more divided by an unpopular nominee.

What about primaries and caucuses?

Presidential primaries work much like primary elections for other federal or state offices. Eligible voters cast ballots either in-person or absentee to select the party’s nominee. Some states used closed primaries in which only voters registered to that political party can participate, while others allow voters of any political affiliation to participate.

Caucuses, on the other hand, are intended as gatherings for the politically active, and require at least an hour (or more) for participants to spend selecting their choices - unlike voting in a primary which takes a matter of minutes. Caucuses vary state-by-state and depending upon which party is running it. For example, Iowa Democrats vote with their feet, but Republicans use a secret, informal ballot.

When delegates are allocated proportionally (the policy for all Democratic primaries and caucuses and some Republican primaries and caucuses), there is usually a minimum threshold of votes required to receive any delegates. The more crowded the field, the more likely it is that some candidates will receive fewer votes than the minimum required, which means their supporters’ votes are essentially wasted.

In the winner-take-all-style (or winner-take-most) that some states’ Republican parties use, the ‘majority’ needed to win all that state’s delegates can be much lower than 50 percent of vote.

Both styles fail to reflect the full nuances of party voters’ choices and viewpoints,setting the stage for an unrepresentative nominee.

How does ranked choice voting solve these problems?

Ranked choice voting allows parties to produce nominees with strong and widespread support, even in a crowded field of candidates. Voters feel free to choose the candidates they like best, without worrying that their vote will somehow help the candidate they like least. And letting them rank all their choices enshrines the sanctity of their right to vote rather than restricting it. Meanwhile, candidates of similar ideologies or backgrounds don’t have to worry about splitting support, and can even band together to form a coalition. The system incentivizes candidates to work together rather than attack one another in the hopes of earning backup choices, and to campaign to a broad swath of voters rather than just their own ‘base.’




What is ranked choice voting?

Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice instead of voting for one individual candidate. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, they win, just like any other election. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that eliminated candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice.This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half of the votes.


How would ranked ballots work for presidential primaries?

Voters rank their preferred candidates on the ballot. To determine the state’s majority winner, add up all first choices. Then, eliminate the lowest vote-getter, and count those voters’ second choices for the remaining candidates. Continue the ranked choice count until the final two to determine which candidate received the broadest possible support. In the case of a contested convention, superdelegates can cast their votes using these results to better reflect supporters’ choices.

For winner-take-all or winner-take-most states, this candidate earns all (or most) of the state’s delegates. For proportional allocation, consider the results at the point when all remaining candidates exceed the minimum threshold. If there is no threshold, allocate in direct proportion.

Ranked choice ballots can also be used to reallocate votes for candidates who have dropped out of the race based on supporters’ backup choices.

What about ranked choice voting in caucuses?

Caucus states can implement ranked voting even more easily, changing party rules and choosing a ballot tallying option. Ranked ballots can also help increase participation by allowing more participants to vote absentee rather than participate in the full caucus decision. Just like in a standard RCV election, absentee caucus voters; can rank their choices, and parties can incorporate backup choices as candidates get eliminated during the in-person caucus.

For example, the Iowa Democratic Party will use ranked choice voting through their new “virtual caucus” that includes allowing voters to cast their ballots online.

Can this really happen for 2020?

Yes! As more and more candidates enter the race, legislators, reformers and party leaders are considering how to accommodate the growing field while producing the best possible nominee. In New Hampshire, our allies at Equal Citizens in collaboration with local legislators introduced a bill that calls for ranked ballots in the 2020 primary, which was tabled but with plans to revisit next year. Meanwhile, the Iowa Democratic Party has unveiled plans that call for ‘virtual caucuses’ letting participants phone-in their votes using ranked choices in the hopes of increasing turnout without requiring participants to attend their live, precinct caucuses. Maine could also consider ranked choice voting if it decides moves to a primary for its 2020 nomination, while a recent column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune made a compelling case for the Minnesota state primary based on the successful use for local elections in the Twin Cities.

When are the primaries and caucuses for 2020?

Here is the full schedule.

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