RCV Improves Elections + Strengthens Democracy

Ranked Choice Voting can improve our election system and strengthen our democracy

RCV gives voters more choice and more voice

Our outdated voting system is designed to be exclusive and limit voter choice on the ballot. Without being able to express their true preference, voters become dissatisfied with the process, and this causes many to withdraw from political engagement entirely.

Choice is limited in several ways:

  • Voters feel constrained to vote for the major parties and avoid choosing a third party candidate, even if that candidate is their favorite, because they don’t want to “waste” their vote.
  • Candidates with diverse backgrounds and perspectives have a hard time getting traction and are discouraged from running because of the spoiler effect and the tremendous amount of money required to run.
  • Candidates on the general election ballot are chosen for us through unrepresentative primaries and caucuses decided by a small percentage of partisan voters.
  • Many local elections in Minnesota have a summer primary where only a small, unrepresentative fraction of voters participate and limit the choice of candidates in the general election.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

RCV opens up the political process and levels the playing field for all candidates. It allows voters to express their true preference rather than facing a zero sum game between the two major political parties and ensures results that accurately reflect the electorate’s diverse spectrum of political views. With RCV, voters can be sure that their vote will matter and that elections will be won by the candidates that best fit their communities.

RCV requires candidates to build broad majority coalitions

RCV is a more democratic voting system than our current one because it ensures that the greatest number of voters support the winner.

By requiring candidates to win with a majority in single-seat elections or a winning threshold in multi-seat elections, candidates need to move beyond their base and build broad coalitions of support. Not only does the outcome more accurately reflect the will of the voters, but a more broadly accountable candidate makes for a more responsive officeholder.

RCV encourages positive campaigning and civility

So many of us are frustrated by the polarization and negativity of our politics. This ‘us-vs-them’ mentality has Americans not just disagreeing with each other, but fearing and demonizing the other side. The root cause is an antiquated voting system that fuels negative advertising and hyperpartisanship.

In contrast, RCV incentivizes candidates to campaign positively based on issues that matter to voters rather than on personal attacks. Candidates behave very differently when they benefit from second or third choice votes. They are less likely to attack an opponent since they don’t want to alienate that candidate’s base voters and risk losing their second choice votes.

To succeed under RCV, candidates must reach out, be broadly appealing to as many voters as possible, and build broad coalitions of support in order to earn both first and second choice votes. It rewards candidates who engage in conversations about issues that matter to voters over big-money candidates who rely on mud-slinging and negative ads. Dividing and attacking is not an effective strategy under RCV and candidates who engage in such tactics are less likely to win.

RCV solves the "spoiler" problem

Our plurality or winner-take-all election system is out of step with our increasing political diversity, number of third parties and voters who identify as independent. It forces voters to choose between voting for their preferred candidate — and risk helping elect the candidate they like the least — or voting for their second choice to avoid wasting their vote. In races with more than two candidates, it is likely that whoever prevails will have received less than a majority of support — something which has occurred in most Minnesota gubernatorial races over the past two decades. Vote splitting between similar candidates, i.e. the Spoiler Effect, allows unrepresentative candidates to win without majority support.

RCV empowers voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. As such, they can vote for their favorite candidate — even if from a minor party — knowing that their second choice will count if their first-choice doesn’t have enough support to win and without fear of helping elect the candidate they like the least. Voters don’t have to worry about vote splitting between similar candidates or wasting their vote.

Since candidates must earn a majority to win, recruiting spoiler candidates to siphon votes away from an opponent would no longer be an effective strategy. Our election system should not allow scheming to thwart the will of voters, and RCV is the most effective and efficient way to fix this problem.

RCV promotes more inclusive, diverse and representative elections

Research comparing election results across the country shows that electoral outcomes for women and people of color are better overall in jurisdictions that use RCV. Women and people of color are more likely to run and win in higher numbers.

RCV lowers barriers and gives greater opportunity to women and people of color by shrinking the costly campaign season, incentivizing positive campaigns based on the issues, and eliminating the risk of vote-splitting between candidates with similar platforms or from the same community. Our local experience in Minnesota demonstrates the benefits of RCV for communities of color. 

One of the biggest obstacles to candidates and voters of color in local elections in Minnesota and cities across the country is the very structure of those elections — requiring a summer primary where turnout is low and less diverse. RCV eliminates the summer primary for local elections which increases voter participation overall but is especially important for communities of color who are underrepresented in primaries. At the state level, we saw the power of RCV to elect the first Alaska Native and first woman to represent the state of Alaska in the U.S. House. Mary Peltola built a broad coalition of indigenous, political, and geographic communities to win.  

Given the positive impact of RCV on increasing diversity in local elections, it is not surprising that RCV is now a sought-after remedy in Voting Rights Act lawsuits. RCV opens the political process to new voices, promotes more diverse political representation, increases voter participation, and expands opportunity for traditionally underrepresented communities.

Read more for links to data, articles and powerful videos. 


RCV reduces polarization and breaks through gridlock

Under our current system, the candidate with the most votes wins — even if they haven’t earned a majority — and an extreme candidate with a committed base of support can win in a multicandidate race even if the majority of voters would have preferred someone else. In order to edge out competitors for plurality wins in multicandidate elections, campaigns have increasingly relied on negative attacks and pandering to the extremes rather than focusing on the issues that matter to a majority of voters. 

Once in office, this hyperpartisanship prevents collaboration on bipartisan, common sense solutions. Partisans dig into their positions — reluctant to give “the other side” any sort of win. Rather than addressing and solving the issues that matter most to the majority of voters, government gridlock has become the norm, and nothing gets done.

RCV fundamentally changes those incentives. Elected officials who have built broad coalitions of support have every incentive to tackle the issues that matter most to the majority of voters and can more easily reach across the aisle to build consensus solutions to the critical issues facing their communities.

RCV is more efficient and cost effective

Many localities in Minnesota run two elections for local offices: a primary in August which narrows the field of candidates down to two, and a general election between those two candidates in November. Local primary elections have very low voter turnout, typically about 5-10%, and that tiny slice of the electorate decides who advances to the general election ballot, preventing the larger voter pool in November from weighing in on all the candidates.

RCV is more efficient and saves taxpayer dollars because it eliminates the costly low-turnout primary and combines the primary and general elections into one election in November when turnout is much higher and more representative of the community. This saves time and money for the locality, candidates and voters.

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