This Election Day, three Congressional districts in Florida and Ohio conducted special elections to fill vacancies from legislators who were no longer filling their position. These elections would have been improved with ranked choice voting (RCV). Ranked choice voting eliminates the need for primaries and ensures winners have a mandate to govern their districts.
Eliminating primaries would be especially helpful in special elections because it would simplify the process and speed up the time needed to fill vacancies. With RCV, there is no need to winnow down the pool of candidates in primaries because there can be multiple candidates from the same party without vote splitting concerns. Primary elections for special elections yield notoriously low turnout and often fail to provide a mandate for governance. It would also be more cost effective, because states would not have to spend money to bring their election workers and equipment out multiple times. By opening more voting locations, updating voting equipment, or hiring more election workers, Election Day itself could be a much more efficient process and with RCV we would have the money to make these changes because we would not get bogged down spending money on expensive, inefficient primaries.
The recent special elections illustrated some of the shortcomings of the current plurality system and where RCV could be part of the solution. In the Special Democratic Primary Election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District, the top contenders were separated by just 5 votes, leaving tens of thousands of voters unrepresented. Because of our plurality system, Cherfilus-McCormick was able to win the entire primary with less than a quarter of the votes, meaning that the majority of voters were unheard. If RCV had been used, candidates would have had to appeal to a wider range of voters to win. Only a candidate with broad support from the public could win because they would have to appeal to voters not only as a first choice, but also by finding enough common ground to be popular as a second or third choice. RCV might provide us with a more accurate representation of what voters want. Those second and third rounds might confirm the existing result or change the result, but either way the process would be improved.
Ranked choice voting would be helpful in both simplifying our election process and making it more representative and appealing for all Americans. These special elections have shown room for improvement and how RCV could solve procedural problems as well as give voters more choice.