Rank Choice Voting: How We Can Empower Voters and Save Taxpayer Money

By Mark West | United States

“Third-parties have no chance of winning!” -Way too many voters in Arkansas

Admittedly, this indubitably frustrating refrain echoes on the lips of thousands of Arkansas voters every election. Any time a third-party candidate asks for a vote, with dreadful certainty, this rejoinder is ripped quickly from its sheath and enthusiastically deployed in parrying any thoughts of winning an election that may have been dancing in the minds of third-party candidates.

Epic and gut-wrenching! Especially when it reverberates in what seems like every campaign event and conversation. In my own race, I read or heard that phrase so many times I lost count. It takes a destructive toll on your psyche and chances of garnering support…literally!

If third-party candidates are ever going to have a realistic chance at winning anything in our State, we must dramatically alter this thought process.

So, how do we do it?

In our current, first-past-the-post, zero-sum election game we can’t, it’s impossible. Even given the right circumstances and the right candidate, this mindset is so effectively entrenched with the voters in our state that winning is a fairy tale if you’re a third-party candidate.

The only pragmatic approach is in changing the way our system operates.  This article is the first of two that are aimed at addressing systemic issues with the way our elections work. I’m going to address the first-past-the-post voting system today. I will tackle the zero-sum issue next column.

My suggestion is transitioning Arkansas into a ranked-choice voting system. First, I’ll talk about how it works. Then I’ll give a few reasons why it will help with the logjam that stifles third-party movement in our state.

What is ranked-choice voting? Essentially it is a system of voting with an embedded run-off that allows voters to rank their choices instead of only choosing one. Need an example?

If you have three candidates, like we did with the Gubernatorial race, voters can rank their choices. We’ll use a round number (100) so that it’s easier to follow. We begin by counting first-place rankings. In Round 1, for argument’s sake, the Republican got 40, the Libertarian 31, and the Democrat 29. No candidate receives 51 votes, so we kick into the automatic runoff. The Democrat is out for having the fewest first-place rankings. We would then allocate the second-place rankings to the other two candidates. Let’s say the Democrat’s supporters are so adamantly opposed to a Republican winning, that most of their second rankings are given to the Libertarian. If that gave 20 second rankings to the Libertarian and only nine for the Republican, the final tally would see the Libertarian with 51 votes and the Republican with 49 votes.

A different result, a different winner, a genuine chance at winning for a third-party candidate.

Why would this be better for Arkansas?

First, let’s take the democratic reason. Voters’ voices would be more empowered. They could vote for a third-party candidate without the fear that the “greater evil” would win. One trip to the voting booth becomes vastly and immensely more powerful than it has been. Voters would also see more viable choices on the ballot.

Second, we’ll talk about the representative reason. Voters would be empowered with the knowledge that their government will better represent their views. Why? It is easier to vote the bums out in a ranked-choice system than in a big-money driven first-past-the-post system that belongs to the special interests.

Third, we have the pragmatic reason. Taxpayers will be saved the expense of costly run-off elections. According to Talk Business & Politics, Arkansas tax-payers will be paying for 100 run-off elections in 2018. None of these are necessary and they would be eliminated with a ranked-choice voting system.

We have plenty of reason to at least look at how to do our elections differently, not just to save taxpayer dollars, but also to empower We The People against special interests that tend to have more financial resources. My next column will look at a more representative means for choosing our elected representatives in government and how it, combined with ranked-choice voting, could impact our future.


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