April 12, 2022
|By Megan Caska
Interim Director of Political Programs, RepresentUs
There is a policy that helped elect the first GOP governor of Virginia in a decade less than a year after the state voted for President Joe Biden by 10 points. This same policy, had it been in place in Georgia in 2020, would have sent two Republicans to the U.S. Senate rather than two Democrats – which would have flipped control of the chamber. It is widely used in deeply Republican Utah, and consistently elects Republicans to office there.
You would think this policy would be the top item for Republican lawmakers looking to expand their ranks in Congress and state legislatures. But the state of Florida just banned it , and Republican-led legislatures across the country are working to restrict it in various ways.
On the other side of the aisle, this same policy has consistently helped elect more women and racial minorities to office, and was supported and implemented by the liberal New York City Council, as well as deep-blue bastions including Ann-Arbor, Mich., Berkeley, Calif., and Amherst, Mass.
Similarly to Republicans, you would expect Democrats to be pushing this idea to expand diversity among elected officials and make them look more like the communities they serve. Yet Democratic legislatures in Vermont , and New Mexico all said no to this idea this past year.
Sometimes the Republicans love this policy, sometimes they hate it. Sometimes Democrats love it, sometimes they hate it. More importantly, though, would you care to guess which group likes it consistently, every time and everywhere it’s implemented? Voters.
The policy is Ranked Choice Voting, sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting, and it’s popular with voters. Among the most popular features of RCV are that it:
- Results in majority, consensus winners
- Eliminates spoiler candidates and voting for the “lesser of two evils.”
- Saves tax dollars by avoiding runoff elections
- Promotes cleaner campaigns with less mud-slinging
- Improves opportunities for Independent and third-party candidates
In 2022 America, you can’t find many issues that generate strong support from Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. But RCV does. So Why aren’t politicians tripping over themselves to get in front of this massively popular initiative?
Politicians are afraid of RCV for the same reasons that voters like it. Because at the end of the day, it’s about who has power in elections. RCV gives voters more power and choice in electing politicians, yet political parties don’t benefit from voters having lots of choices.
That helps explain why both red and blue states are acting to restrict RCV. RepresentUs has identified nine bills in six states introduced this year that would ban or severely restrict RCV. Florida (S.B. 524 and H.B. 7061) and Tennessee have already enacted anti-RCV laws, and similar bills have been proposed in California (A.B 2808), New York (A 9512), Missouri (HJR 131), and Minnesota (S.F. 1831 and H 2505).
The current system keeps voters' choices to a single option from only two parties. And in many places, with gerrymandering and uncompetitive primaries, most voters don’t even really get those two options. They end up with the one Republican or one Democrat who won the most votes (often not a majority) of a small percentage of the voters of a single party who turned out to vote in a sweltering summer primary.
In this way, parties are able to maintain control of the political process. Parties and politicians make rules around who can run, who can vote, and under what circumstances, in their primaries.
Unlike so many other issues that are immediately branded as “conservative” or “liberal”, RCV is neither. It’s just a process. In Republican areas, RCV elects Republicans. In Democrat areas, it elects Democrats. The process itself can’t benefit one party or politician, but it benefits voters.
Elected officials, both Republican and Democrat, often evaluate RCV through the lens of whether it would benefit them personally in the next election, not whether it offers more choice and better representation to voters. That’s why the politics of RCV gets scrambled so thoroughly that you end up with Republicans like Ron DeSantis on the same side of the issue as Vermont liberals, but you also see small John’s Creek Ga. – which voted over 65% for former President Donald Trump – join Santa Fe, N.M. – which voted 75% for Biden – in adopting Ranked Choice Voting.
RCV is a fascinating issue that holds a mirror up to both parties, reflecting not their ideology, but their willingness to listen to voters.