The Council of the District of Columbia hosted a public hearing on Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) on November 18, 2021. The hearing gave Washingtonians an opportunity to publicly discuss the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity Amendment Act of 2021. The VOICE Act (B24-0372) would bring RCV to the District. RCV allows voters to rank up to five candidates by preference, instead of choosing just one. It works like this:
1st choice: The candidate you love. 2nd choice: The candidate you like. 3rd or 4th choice: The candidate you like slightly. 5th choice: The candidate you can stand.
The hearing was virtual, with many DC residents joining the forum, and 60 out of 89 voicing support.
"We heard from young people and seniors, advocates and organizers, former candidates and those currently running to make a change in the District, Black and Brown leaders, Democrats and Independents, residents from every corner of the District, and everything in between," remarked Sean Dugar, Executive Director at More Voice DC.
The benefits of RCV are just as diverse as the candidates who are empowered to run under this system. Candidates are incentivized to campaign positively to appeal to the supporters of other candidates as a backup preference. Data shows that in all jurisdictions that use RCV – including New York City, Minneapolis, and San Francisco – voter turnout is modestly increasing, and races are more dynamic and genial with genuine policy debates supplanting negative campaign tactics.
But a majority of the commenters chiming in on the subject during the forum were very much in favor of the VOICE Act and RCV.
"Ward 8 has historically had an under count. The two wards with the lowest voter participation in every election since at least 2014 have been wards 7 and 8. Ranked Choice Voting makes the electoral process more equitable and creates an atmosphere where we can have more diverse candidates in the process, that is why I enthusiastically support it," said Phil Pannell, who is also active in senior resident issues. "I want to send the message throughout the city that every voice counts and that Ranked Choice would be the logical process to amplify that message."
Makia Green, the Organizing Director of the DC Working Families Party, commented, "The VOICE Act makes all of us electable and valid. It embraces Black Washingtonians' values of freedom, equity, and true democracy."
Election reform expert Lisa D. T. Rice stated, "I am excited for the prospect of the introduction of RCV to Washington, DC. Opposing having greater voter expression is counter to democratic values."
Studies found that RCV benefits communities of color specifically through round-by-round counting, where Black and Hispanic candidate vote totals and district gains grew through the ranking process.
According to Dugar, "Two things are clear. DC has an issue when it comes to representation, whether its candidates being elected despite 80 percent of voters voting for someone else, Wards that have never elected a woman to the Council, candidates who ignore whole communities while campaigning and entire populations that have not seen people who look like them elected to office. The second is that DC urgently needs and is ready to implement Ranked Choice Voting."
The next steps in the journey toward implementing RCV include a vote in Spring 2022. If it passes, there will be a multi-year robust public education campaign before RCV is used for the first time in 2024.
This is a guest blog by More Voice DC, an organization dedicated to expanding the voices of Washingtonians in the political process and making sure that DC residents are educated about how to most effectively use their voice.
The image is from Ed Uthman on flickr.