(Opinion) Democracy and Ranked-Choice Voting: A Way Forward
Guest Contributor: Vikram Seshadri
New York City’s Democratic primary for Mayor was considered by many to be a disaster. The race devolved into chaos and confusion when the Board of Elections accidentally counted 135,000 test ballots, significantly decreasing the margin between Eric Adams and the two other front-runners, Kathryn Garcia and Andrew Yang. The primary was intended to be an experiment in ranked-choice voting, an alternative voting system that has been gaining ground in local elections across America, and critics have been quick to dismiss ranked-choice voting after the fiasco, but we can’t let one primary sully the reputation of ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting incentivizes candidates to collaborate and cooperate, reduces costs to cities by allowing for instant runoffs, and minimizes the need for voters to strategically place their vote for fear of ‘wasting’ it. Yet, at the core of the case for ranked-choice voting is an ideal that our nation has been chasing since 1776: a truly representative and democratic government, one in which a diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds can be equally included in the democratic processes.
Traditional voting systems can lead to surprisingly undemocratic outcomes. In plurality systems where the candidate with the most votes always wins, a candidate with the least support can come out on top. This isn’t just a theoretical possibility; before Maine transitioned to ranked-choice voting, nine out of their last eleven governors were elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. When voters rank their ballots, candidates don’t have to worry about splitting votes, and voters don’t have to worry about being represented by someone they didn’t want in office.
Ranked-choice voting is what this country needs to truly achieve equitable elections. Candidates of color see far more success in ranked-choice voting elections; in order to gain second or third place rankings, candidates are incentivized to campaign outside of their own racial groups and build a broader base of support. Candidates of color also don’t need to worry about splitting votes between minority voters, which often impedes diversity in plurality elections. In a case study of four California cities, candidates of color won 24% more races after these cities adopted ranked-choice voting. New York City’s mayoral primary may have had its downfalls, but often overlooked is the fact that Eric Adams is likely to become New York’s second Black mayor.
Ranked-choice voting doesn’t just empower candidates of color to run for office, but it also ensures voters of color are casting their ballots on a level playing field. In ranked-choice elections, especially those in diverse communities, voters of color are likely to use more rankings than white voters, meaning their votes are more expressive and the ultimate results of elections are more representative of a diverse electorate. When Americans rank their ballots, the results reflect their will.
Contrarians and conspiracy theorists view New York City’s experiment as a sign to turn away from ranked-choice voting. I view it as a sign to embrace it. Voter registration campaigns love the maxim “every vote counts,” but the harsh reality is that in most plurality elections, this isn’t the case. When every ballot is thrown in a bucket of millions of other votes, voters can never truly express their political desires. New York City’s Democratic primary emulates an ideal ranked-choice election; voters ranked over a dozen candidates, making nearly every ballot unique and expressive.
I will soon be able to vote, a responsibility I will not take lightly. When I cast my ballot, I hope to feel that my political opinions and will are accurately expressed on my ballot. That’s a feeling all Americans deserve.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not Inclusion Advocate and ECC.