2020 was a watershed year for the ranked choice voting (RCV) movement. Legislation favorable to RCV passed in Virginia and Utah, RCV was approved in seven out of eight ballot measures, and RCV was used successfully for the first time in five Democratic presidential primaries.
RCV is a common-sense voting reform that prevents expensive runoffs, broadens voter choice, and makes winners more representative of the electorate at large by ensuring the winning candidate has majority support. As such, RCV is not a reform that benefits one political party or another, but rather is a win-win for parties and voters who benefit from an electoral system that measures the full scope of voter preference.
The movement for RCV made inroads across the geographic and partisan spectrum in 2020. Alaska, which has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in the general election for nearly three decades, became the second state in the nation to approve RCV in all state-wide elections. RCV was endorsed by 17 editorial boards at newspapers across the country as well as a growing number of Nobel Prize winners and notable scholars across the ideological spectrum. When the National Constitution Center convened a panel of pre-eminent constitutional scholars across the political spectrum, both the conservative and progressive groups proposed implementing RCV in presidential elections.
When it came to picking their party’s preferred candidates, a growing number of state parties turned to RCV to improve their elections. Nine state parties endorsed RCV in their presidential platform and the New Hampshire House Democratic Caucus employed RCV to elect its leaders. Furthermore, four state parties used RCV to choose their chair and fourteen state party conventions used ranked choice ballots in 2020.
In fact, three Republican state parties in Indiana, Utah, and Virginia all employed RCV in their 2020 conventions to streamline the nomination process. RCV proved to be popular in its effectiveness for parties and voters as the Republican State Committee in Indiana noted that these rule changes will “ensure delegate’s voices are heard” and 72 percent of delegates polled at the Utah Republican Convention said they preferred the use of RCV to multiple rounds of balloting.
When it came to running elections, Republican party officials found that RCV allowed for the selection of consensus candidates that better represented their party’s delegates and voters. In Indiana, for example, Attorney General Curtis Hill was up for re-election. Hill was polarizing within his party which cast doubts upon his electability. While Hill was able to muster the support of the plurality of the party on the first ballot, Indiana’s use of RCV ensured that a candidate that better represented the party’s values and could secure majority support was able to win their party’s nomination. Congressman Todd Rokita attained a majority and won the Indiana Republican party’s nomination after two other candidates were eliminated via RCV, with Rokita vowing to uphold the rule of law and implement “common sense, conservative values” if elected. Rokita proved to be electable, going on to win the general election with 58 percent of the vote.
In Virginia, Marine Corps veteran Alicia Andrews emerged as the Republican party’s nominee after coming in third in the first round of voting. RCV simplified the process of voting, creating an “instant runoff” whereby Andrews emerged with 58 percent support in the party after two other candidates were implemented.
Utah similarly used RCV at its party convention to determine nominees for 22 races, eight of which needed multiple rounds of RCV balloting to determine the winner. Utah’s races typically see very large candidate fields which RCV allows to winnow down to the candidates with the broadest and deepest support among delegates. If one candidate reaches 60 percent support, they become the nominee and if no candidate achieves that mark, a primary election occurs with the top-two finishers in the RCV race. In the heavily contested race for Utah’s First Congressional District, for example, eleven rounds were required to narrow the field down to two candidates. RCV saved delegates from time-consuming rounds of balloting and instead initiated an “instant” runoff where two candidates, Kerry Gibson and Blake Moore, who were best able to consolidate support remained.
All in all, RCV has proven to be a strong bipartisan reform to streamline the election process, prevent the use of timely and expensive runoffs, and allow for the selection of consensus candidates that best represent their constituents and party. 2021 could be an exciting year for the RCV movement as it continues to grow in its support across the United States among both Democratic and Republican officials.