The Future of Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) got its big Broadway debut last summer but is it ready to open wide?

RCV is a way to vote that allows voters to rank candidates by preference on ballots. The process ensures that in multi-candidate races, one ends up with an outright majority without having to resort to run-off elections. One side effect is that RCV increases the chances for third party or independent candidates to get elected.

While RCV has been around for years and has been used in numerous places in the U.S., last summer New York City used it in the citywide elections. This was RCV’s biggest test yet. How did it go and what does it mean for the future? Read on!

RCV in 2022

An analysis done by Citizens Union showed that RCV boosted voter turnout and brought more diverse and young voters to the polls in the NYC primary. It reduced so-called “wasted” votes (votes for candidates with little chance of winning outright) and brought more representation from across the five boroughs.

Deb Otis from the RCV advocacy group Fair Vote said on a recent episode of the Poll Hub podcast, it “opens the playing field for candidates from all sorts of backgrounds.” And indeed, in NYC, 35 Democratic primary winners identified themselves as a person of color. That’s up from 26 in the current council.

Exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed 95% of people thought rank choice voting was “simple to complete.” That was good news for RVC since some critics suggested it was confusing and would hurt everything from turnout to down-ballot voting.

Otis says, “we are used to ranking things in our everyday lives, and it turns out when voters have that option at the ballot box, they want to use it.”

And, while there were some problems that cropped up on Election Day and after (RCV results are often delayed by at least a day), professor Lisa Disch at the University of Michigan may have summed it up best: “The fact that (ranked-choice voting) survived even the New York Board of Elections and produced solid results shows the robustness of the system.”

Another impact of RCV is in how some candidates campaigned. Some formed alliances, encouraging supporters to vote for them first and their allied competitor second. Kathryn Garcia, a Democratic candidate who formed a pact with another, describes campaigning in RCV: “It might not always be a lovefest but it certainly doesn’t have to be a slugfest.”

So…now that RCV has made it in NYC, will it make it everywhere? Perhaps.

Bipartisan Love?

One often overlooked benefit of RCV is that it’s ideologically neutral. Both parties benefit from the system because it increases voter turnout overall. Dr. Lee Miringoff, Director of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion, says, “at a time when we are talking about voter fraud and voter suppression, this seems to democratize voting.”

RCV was first used in the U.S. in 2004 in San Franciso. As of 2021, more than 9.2 million voting-age citizens live in areas that use RCV. Since the New York City election, RCV has gotten a lot of new attention with new localities adding, or considering, adopting it for at least some elections.

All signs point to a bright future for RCV in the U.S.

This post was written by Marist Poll Media Team student Athen Hollis.