One Person One Vote: The Case against Ranked Choice Voting

As 2020 is an election year, there will be no shortage of candidates, issues, celebratory folks, nor broken hearts this November. One issue that still divides Mainers today will appear on the November ballot. That issue is ranked choice voting (RCV), an electoral method that countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom employ in their elections. RCV has divided Mainers because some view it as confusing and disenfranchising to certain voters, while others point to elections with RCV delivering “real” majorities for the victor.

Here in Maine, RCV would have the effect of allowing more registered independents and other concerned citizens to run on more issue-specific platforms, such as climate change, universal basic income, or student loan forgiveness. While many younger voters have grown tired of the Electoral College, the two party system, and the endless partisanship of current American politics, RCV is championed by some Mainers as a better option for widening the field of candidates in Maine. How does this system work? Well, it’s complicated.

When you get to a voting booth, normally you’re presented with those candidates that qualified for the ballot either by write-in, running on behalf of a state recognized party, or by petitioning to run as an independent, which usually requires a certain amount of signatories. With RCV, you choose the candidates you like from most to least. Depending on where the candidates place at the end of initial voting (which would normally be the end of the election), the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the voters that ranked that candidate as their favorite now vote for their second favorite candidate.

Essentially, if your candidate gets 1% of the vote, but the next three candidates got more votes, then your vote would be counted towards the next candidate (who would have 3%, for example). Still following? The state then repeats this process until one candidate reaches 50% of the vote. The reasoning behind RCV is that the elected candidates will better reflect their constituencies preferences. But what does this mean for our beloved Democrats and Republicans? The resulting fracturing of our multi-ethnic, multicultural, diverse coalitions in both parties is why most Maine voters and detractors have put RCV back on the ballot.

With a field now open to more candidates, many of the national parties will either fracture into numerous competing smaller parties or spread out candidates under different political banners to cover all sides of the political spectrum. In Australia, where the two larger parties like our Democrats and Republicans (the Labour and Liberal Party, respectively) still fight over most of the political power. However, it is important to pay attention to the smaller parties. Certain parties like the far-right One Nation Party, have a platform of climate-change denialism, racism towards foreigners, and maintain ties with nationalist and racist organizations within the country. They maintain control of a few seats in Australian Parliament, but forces the Liberal Party to work with them on some of their issues.

In the UK., the U.K. Independence Party successfully forced a vote to make the United Kingdom leave the European Union. As we have seen, these new electoral processes give some extremist groups more of a voice and more opportunity to promote their hatred. At a time where our country is being run by an extremist, the goal of every Bates student should be preventing extremists on either side from running in an election, much less actually representing people.

Voting is also already an exercise in one’s civic duty. One person equaling one vote is as clear a system as the state can have.  I might want to vote for an independent or third-party in this upcoming presidential election, but what effect might that have? I know one scenario that Bates students and I don’t want to repeat is folks like Jill Stein causing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to lose to Donald Trump. Disaffected Sanders supporters also had a role in the previous election as well, and might still have one to play should they choose to vote for President Trump out of spite towards the Democratic establishment like they did in 2016.

Why should I vote for Vermin Supreme in November only for my vote to be recounted not once, not twice, but three different times towards another candidate if I am just doing it as a joke? Wasting the states time and resources equals more money put towards recounting ballots and less time actually putting someone in office. Finally, ranked choice voting is complicated. The average voter should not need to take a crash course in the Bates Politics Department to be able to figure out how to cast a ballot. Expecting working people with families, jobs, and children to take care of to drop everything and learn the intricacies of RCV is not realistic nor beneficial to working Mainers.

Lastly, what happens if all the candidates I list on the RCV ballot are eliminated? Well, it’s like I didn’t vote at all! If you voted for, say, the Green Party candidate and two independents that didn’t make the cutoff as the state tabulates the votes, it’s like you never voted at all! That’s right, if all of your choices are eliminated at the end of each round of vote redistribution, then your vote doesn’t matter. Furthermore, since when do some folks get to vote twice?

I understand the desire to see real majorities determine the outcome of elections, but we’ve got to face the reality that if only 40% of eligible voters vote in an election, then the candidates are fighting for a majority of 40%. Squaring the circle by counting some citizen’s votes twice, doesn’t make the election a real majority, it just moves numbers around until the percentage of people who actually went to vote are in one candidate’s corner. Lets focus on increasing turnout before we enact our own version of the Electoral College here in Maine.

After four years of Donald Trump, would Maine like to see carbon copies of Paul LePage contesting every statewide and national seat? I don’t think Maine nor Bates wants any more promotion of extremists from anywhere on the political spectrum. In order to return this country to some semblance of normal and continue to make progress on the current issues facing Maine, the last thing we need is another wrecking ball candidate on the ballot here in Maine. This November, let’s focus on actually getting ourselves to the polls, instead of trying to redistribute folks’ votes ten times over and say no thanks to ranked choice voting.