Politics is Not Binary

Choices Are On a Continuum

“Ranked Choice Voting” (RCV) which already is in place in several states, offers an interesting and potentially very important adjustment to resolve the up-or-down, either/or problems of our two-party system.

RCV, in its simplest terms, allows all voters to select more than one candidate, in the order of their preference. Those second (and third, or more) choices are included in the results if no candidate receives an absolute majority (50 percent plus one) of the votes in their district.

Today, most elections are binary choices – one of the major party candidates receives more votes than the other and is declared the winner, even if they attracted barely 40 percent of the total vote. Some states have run-offs, but those simply lop off candidates who don’t make the top-two cut.

Ranked choice voting prevents anyone from winning an election without majority support. That single requirement carries several important benefits:

  • It pushes candidates toward the middle of the political spectrum. Candidates (those for competitive seats, anyway) can’t draw a majority from their base alone – they have to appeal to independents and members of the other party to cross the finish line. Candidates at the fringes aren’t likely to make it.

  • No one’s vote is “wasted.” Today, third party candidates have the challenge of drawing votes in the face of inevitable defeat and are often castigated as “spoilers.” RCV ensures those votes can directly influence the outcome when no candidate receives an outright majority in the initial voting.

  • It provides a much more nuanced understanding of the electorate. RCV gives us a deeper, broader picture of where the electorate lives on the political spectrum, the issues they’re most concerned with, and the kinds of candidates they are willing to support.

With our problems of insurmountable impasses with binary solutions (ours or theirs), it is in ALL our interests to see where “human citizens really are” and factor that into policy decisions of importance to all citizens on all sides of all issues.

The basic processes of RCV are that the voter is asked to name a first choice and two or more others in order of preference.

All the “first choice” votes are tallied, and if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and other candidates are given his or her “second choice” votes. Repeat until someone hits the magic threshold and a winner is declared.

There are a number of other methodologies used – assigning points (3 for the candidate ranked #1, 2 for the next, and 1 point for a third, for example). The variations don’t change the basic thrust of RCV: enhancing voters’ voices in the election of people to represent them.

There is no partisan advantage to RCV – it simply better reflects where voters are than where the two-party system wants to take them. And there’s reason for both parties to support the idea. Fun fact: Ranked choice voting would have delivered the Senate to Mitch McConnell if it had been in place in Georgia in November. Then Senator David Purdue fell 3/10s of a percentage point shy of an outright majority on November 3, while the Libertarian candidate pulled 2.3 percent of the total vote. Unless 85 percent of those third-party voters listed Jon Ossoff as their second choice, Purdue would have been declared the winner.

It would obviously take years for the body politic at large to understand and come to trust such systems.

Happily, some experiments are already underway. Maine has used ranked choice voting since 2018, while Alaskans have adopted it for use beginning in 2022. And more than a dozen municipalities used ranked choice voting – from liberal bastions like San Francisco (and, beginning this year, New York City) to places like Henderson, North Carolina.

We need some more!! This is democracy at work!


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