Today is election day in Cape Coral and Ft. Myers, Florida, but that wasn’t always the plan. Hurricane Irma’s destructive blow to the state has delayed the elections in Lee County twice. Rain or shine, though, these elections are a perfect example of the need for ranked choice voting in local elections. For all of the Cape Coral and Ft. Myers primaries being held today, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff on November 7th.
In Cape Coral, there are seven candidates vying to become mayor, three candidates running for the Ward 1 city council seat, and three candidates running for the Ward 4 council seat.
Ft. Myers is in a similar position, with three candidates running for mayor and two city council seats up for election, with four candidates running for each. One other ward is also up for election, but because there are only two candidates, there will not be a primary today for that district and both will advance to the November 7th runoff.
It is easy to see how ranked choice voting would be extremely valuable in these elections. While voters in Cape Coral and Ft. Meyer’s have the benefit of having so many candidates step forward to represent their community, their voting system forces them to come back to the polls. Ranked choice voting would allow them to select a winner, with a majority, in one election. These cities are currently focused on hurricane recovery, which is a daunting and expensive effort. However, their tax dollars will have to be used to hold an election that could be eliminated if RCV were in use.
These runoffs are not only expensive, but undemocratic as well. Historically, there is a clear pattern of turnout drop-off between primary or general elections and the runoffs which ensue if no candidate receives a majority of the vote. While early and absentee voting for this election does exceed the last mayoral primary in 2013 (as of 10:30am on 10/3), there is every reason to believe that overall turnout would be higher if the two elections were consolidated into one. Varying turnouts in primaries or generals versus runoffs makes the series of elections less representative than one election in which all voters can make their voices heard. The ongoing recovery from Hurricane Irma is likely to exacerbate that.
In an ideal world, we would not use a system which costs voters this much time and money. We can still get closer to that ideal, if only the elections of Lee County would transition to RCV.
If Ft. Myers and Cape Coral were to adopt ranked choice voting they would be in good company. The City of Sarasota became the first city in Florida to adopt RCV, with 77% support, back in 2007. Sarasota is in the process of working with the state to ensure they will be able to implement RCV in the near future, which will help pave the way for other cities, like Ft. Myers and Cape Coral, to improve their elections with RCV.