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The Primaries Ought To Have Ranked Choice Voting [Opinion]

The following opinions are held solely by the author, and do not necessarily represent the official viewpoint of HillReporter.com.

We are still several months away from any primary elections in the 2020 contest for picking the Democratic nominee for president. Still, with nearly two dozen candidates running, an important question needs to be asked: do states need to institute a different form of picking winners in the primaries?

Polling demonstrates that there are definitely a small handful of Democrats who are inching toward or already part of the “top tier” of candidates. Other individuals who have entered the race are now dropping out as well, and more are expected to do the same over the next few months.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

However, in spite of those developments, a situation may develop where one candidate may win the nomination without actually getting the support of a majority of voters. It’s even possible that they may even get just a quarter of the vote overall.

(Quick note: This is not a commentary so much against Joe Biden, but rather against the process by which a candidate is selected to be the nominee — no endorsements are being made here. So before we move on, let’s just state for the record that Biden’s name, or any other name used in this opinion piece, could feasibly be replaced by any other candidate’s further down the line, and the same arguments could be made.)

Presently, former Vice President Joe Biden leads the pack of Democrats with 30 percent of support by voters planning to take part in the primaries, according to a recent poll from Emerson College. But there’s a three-way tie for second place, with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Kamala Harris (D-California) each garnering 15 percent of support. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Indiana) is in fifth place with 5 percent of the vote.

A majority of voters do not support Biden at this time. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the candidate going into 2020, but it is worrisome that Democrats may pick someone who isn’t the preferred nominee. Is there another way?

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) may hold the answers. Rather than have voters determine their votes in the “first past the poll” fashion, allowing them to rank their choices and counting votes in that way may grant more legitimacy to the end result, including if it remains to be Biden.

RCV is “an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots,” according to Ballotpedia. Voters rank their choices in candidates, marking who they prefer to win first, and then who they next would prefer, and so on down the list.

Then, the votes are counted. If no candidate able to obtain majority within the first “round” of voting, the candidate with the least amount of votes is tossed from consideration, and the second choice of those voters is tallied into the mix. The process continues until one candidate eventually receives a majority.

This video from Minnesota Public Radio helps explain it visually:

 

Some states, according to FairVote.org, are already considering proposals to change their primary elections to consider this form of voting — including New Hampshire, the first primary state in the nation (which happens directly after the Iowa caucuses). Kansas is also considering the change.

It may be an unnecessary change. As more candidates drop out, as more debates happen that widdle down the “top tier,” and as other issues come about, voters may be able to select a candidate without needing ranked choice voting to help legitimize the eventual winner. 

But as it stands right now, a candidate could win the nomination with a minority of voters supporting them. For a party that has argued against future outcomes like what was witnessed in the 2016 general presidential election, that should be deeply concerning.



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