Letter to the Editor: Ranked Choice Voting Unlikely to Fracture Two-Party System

In response to One Person One Vote: The Case Against Ranked Choice Voting:

To add a few remarks on ranked choice voting from someone who has looked at the mathematics behind various voting systems: The author seems to have Duverger’s Law in mind when writing “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.” While this is stated as a law, it’s really more of an observed tendency rather than something universal like Gravitational Law. The Wikipedia link gives several counter-examples to this “law” and there are a number of factors that indicate the U.S. would tend towards contradicting Duverger’s Law (so we would still have two major parties) if ranked choice voting was more widely adopted. To name just two are the voting traditions of the U.S. system and the extant coalitions that make up both Democratic and Republican parties.

The passage “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” undercuts the author’s intended conclusion. Were ranked choice voting available to Mainers during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, voters could have cast a vote for Jill Stein AND also had a vote in favor of Hillary Clinton. A similar ballot for Sanders supporters could have been made.

There are similar errors in several other passages, but I believe the most egregious is the wording in “Wasting the states time and resources equals more money put towards recounting ballots and less time actually putting someone in office.” Voter enfranchisement is the cornerstone of our democracy: it should never be considered a “waste” to try to engage more citizens in the process. I applaud the author in recognizing that increasing voter turnout is also essential for our democracy to function, but there’s no reason to believe that this stands in contradiction with more voting options.

Finally, the mathematics associated to voting is fascinating and remarkably accessible (relative to other applied math). The text “The Mathematics of Social Choice” by Christoph Borgers is a great resource for exploring this.

Martin Montgomery is a visiting assistant professor of mathematics at Bates