Voices & Choices

The race for ranked choice voting reform: key updates from Congress and state legislatures

The race for ranked choice voting reform: key updates from Congress and state legislatures

Ranked choice voting continues to lead, both in state legislatures and the halls of Congress under its inclusion in the sweeping reform package known as  H.R. 1.

The congressional legislation, approved in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, requires states using federal dollars to purchase voting equipment that is ready to run a ranked choice election - a standard that all the major equipment vendors now can meet.

But that’s not all. Across the nation, state legislators are introducing and debating ranked choice voting legislation. While the finish line remains a long way away in some states, the pack of ranked choice voting (RCV) bills that set out from the starting line has grown, with several significant alterations and additions.

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What began as 14 states kicking off their legislative sessions with ranked choice voting proposals has since swelled to 19 as of March 12, with more states to introduce bills in the coming months. The proposals in the running offer a mix of methods -  from local options bills that would allow eligible municipalities to adopt RCV for local races to those striving for ranked ballots in state and congressional offices, and even the Oval itself. Some focus on general elections, while others apply only to primaries or special election vacancies. And state to state, key sponsors and supporters come from a mix of political ideologies representing both sides of the aisle.

FairVote will continue to track all existing and new legislation, working with FairVote Action and local allies in support of many bills. Here are a few highlights - with more to come.

Hawaii chambers advance RCV bills: Hawaii’s House of Representatives and Senate have each passed different RCV bills: the House-approved proposal establishes ranked choice voting for all primary, vacancy, and nonpartisan general elections, while a bill to use RCV to fill vacancies for Congress and county council seats won unanimous backing in the Senate. FairVote Action and Common Cause Hawaii provided testimony supporting both pieces of legislation.

Maine legislators seek to extend RCV for president and governor: After making history last year with the first RCV elections for Congress, Maine legislators want to extend use of RCV. The senate president has sponsored a bill to extend RCV to the presidential elections - both to allocate Maine’s electoral votes in the general election and delegates in a newly created presidential primary (Maine in 2016 relied on caucuses). Several proposed constitutional amendments would expand RCV to November elections for governor and state legislature, and another bill would allow more cities to join Portland in using RCV for city elections.

Massachusetts bill sponsor total soars: Thanks to outreach and coalition-building spearheaded by our allies at Voter Choice Massachusetts, two RCV bills - a local options proposal and one to establish RCV for state and federal elections - by February 20th had amassed 82 co-sponsors out of 200 legislators. Voter Choice Massachusetts may back a ballot measure for 2020 if the legislature doesn’t act...stay tuned

Bipartisan appeal: RCV continues to prove its bipartisan appeal with a mix of bills introduced by both Republicans and Democrats in states all over the nation. Republican legislators back comprehensive use of RCV in states like Missouri and Rhode Island, while winning backing from Democrats in states like New Hampshire and Wyoming.

Local options abound: States advancing RCV local options legislation this year with strong support from local and state advocates include California, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington.

Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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