Members of the Class of 2020 who had virtual graduation ceremonies may have had a bittersweet graduation experience — proud of their achievements but sad that the Covid-19 pandemic precluded in-person celebration. While recent graduates navigate these trying times with their communities’ support, FairVote recognizes and celebrates that the Class of 2020 improved their student governments and built momentum for the ranked choice voting (RCV) movement by expanding its use in campus elections.
More than 75 colleges and universities use RCV in their campus elections, and at least 13 colleges passed or implemented RCV within the 2019-2020 academic year. Twenty-seven states are home to at least one college that uses RCV. An overview of new RCV adoptions and the regional breakdown of RCV schools shows where the reform is on the march.
The 13 schools that passed, expanded, or implemented RCV for the first time in 2020 are Auburn, Boise State, George Washington, Houston, James Madison, Kenyon, Michigan, Peru State, Sewanee, Swarthmore, UC Santa Cruz, UT Austin, and Wyoming. New adoptions of RCV on campuses are often motivated by a desire to promote high turnout, encourage more candidates to run, and increase diversity within student governments. A few examples of why student reformers say they wanted RCV are illustrative.
Students at Auburn were concerned by their experience of low turnout in runoff elections, with SGA Vice President Schyler Burney saying student leaders “realized there was a need to reassess the way voting is done just after seeing multiple runoff elections done in the past few years."
At James Madison, a desire for more reflective outcomes was a motivator, with student government member Ethan Gardner tweeting, “as a supporter of this [RCV] Resolution, I believe adopting this election style will better allow student preferences to drive election results.”
Last week the @jmu_sga passed a Resolution expressing our intent to shift SGA elections, both internal and external, to Ranked Choice Voting. As a supporter of this Resolution, I believe adopting this election style will better allow student preferences to drive election results pic.twitter.com/jFuTF9uLCD— Ethan Gardner (@ethanhgardner) April 12, 2020
Finally, at Kenyon, student Katelyn Schwartz writes on behalf of student government in the Kenyon Collegian that “we hope that ranked-choice voting will inspire more students to run for Student Council in the future and create a more diverse set of candidates.”
California is a Leader When It Comes to RCV Schools
California is home to several cities that use RCV in their local elections, so it is encouraging to see that California students share the same enthusiasm for RCV as localities do in the state. Eighteen California schools use RCV, making the state the national leader in FairVote’s tracker. The latest campus adoption in the state is UC Santa Cruz, which moved to RCV in 2020. With that addition, 6 of the 10 campuses that comprise the prestigious University of California system now use RCV for student elections: Berkeley, Davis, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and UCLA.
Wide Use of RCV at Massachusetts Schools Bodes Well for Referendum
Massachusetts will likely have a 2020 statewide referendum on whether to adopt RCV for their congressional and state elections. If that referendum is held in November of this year, many college and university students in the state will be able to vote on that question based on firsthand experience with RCV in their student elections. Nine Massachusetts schools — Clark, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, UMass Amherst, Wellesley, Williams, and Worcester Polytech Institute — use RCV, making the state second by that measure behind California.
RCV Schools Are Prominent in Both Red and Blue States
While reliably Democratic-voting California and Massachusetts rank first and second in the number of schools using RCV, there are many well-established RCV schools in typically Republican-voting states as well. Of the 27 states that have at least one RCV school, 16 states were won by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and 11 states went for Hillary Clinton.
As a result of the widespread use of RCV in California and Massachusetts, there are more RCV schools in “blue states”: 49 campuses are located in states that voted for Clinton in 2016 and 28 campuses are in states that supported Trump. However, as recent RCV adoptions at Auburn, Boise State, and the University of Wyoming illustrate, RCV is gaining serious traction at campuses in “red states” as well.
As the Class of 2020 puts their hard-earned education to work in service of communities across the country, they will develop solutions to many pressing public policy challenges facing the Gen Z and Millennial generations. One of the many issues recent grads will surely address is how to best strengthen American democracy and public institutions. If college campuses live up to their billing as training grounds for democratic participation, the widespread use of RCV at campuses across the country suggests a clear takeaway: RCV is the future of voting in the United States.