Voices & Choices

Solving Problems: Ending Vote Splitting

Solving Problems: Ending Vote Splitting

As the general election nears, FairVote will discuss problems with our election system and electoral solutions offered by ranked choice voting.

The 2016 Presidential primary season was dominated by a myriad of candidates competing for only two major party nominations. This was by no means a unique occurrence, but there was perhaps a greater degree of ideological diversity than primary voters are accustomed to seeing. This was arguably healthier for a democracy: more voices leads to more choices, leads to better representation. However, the abundance of Republican candidates led to repeated plurality wins for Donald Trump, who won popular vote majorities in just seventeen primaries. That’s twice as many as necessary to win the Republican nomination, but most of those primaries occurred after the race shrank to three candidates and voters had fewer choices. A majority of voters in thirty-four states picked someone else. We can hardly call these results democratic.

Living in a democracy with more choices doesn’t have to mean plurality wins are inevitable. Nor does it mean that voters only get two major party candidates to choose from in an election. Ranked choice voting provides a method of holding elections which eliminates the the threat of vote-splitting and consequently eliminates the “spoiler” label for non-traditional candidates inside and outside of a party. Because voters have the freedom to rank as many candidates as they’d like in order of preference, they have nothing to lose by ranking an underdog first. If the unlikely candidate can’t win, those voters instantly have their vote count for their next choice. Votes aren’t wasted, and no candidate can be blamed for splitting the vote.

When multiple candidates are equally viable, no party is a “third” party. Candidates can compete for the nomination of a party which most suits their beliefs, rather than the one with the broadest appeal. Primary voters won’t have to settle for the most electable candidate; they’ll get to select the one most in line with their own views.

In a general election though, candidates representing different viewpoints will need to appeal to a majority of voters regardless of party identification. An energetic base won’t be enough to carry anyone to victory. Candidates will need to reach out beyond their base and ask for voters second or third choices as well. Similarities would replace differences as the focus of campaigns, bringing about a more unified body politic. Candidates can only win with more than half the vote, ensuring that they have wide appeal and majority support.

The current election cycle is a popular object of derision. Voters are widely discouraged from voting for outsiders because they risk throwing the election to candidate they like least. Even Bernie Sanders, who launched an insurgent campaign to challenge party control of the electoral process, is now asking voters to vote strategically. No matter how enticing the horserace is, it would be wrong to write off these oddities as the products of crooked or deplorable candidates or an election cycle gone rogue. We cannot afford to forget that our democracy contains much deeper flaws that require innovative solutions. Ranked choice voting negates the effects of vote-splitting and allows for fair participation of all who seek office.


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