Recently, Vermont Public Interest Research Group gave ranked choice voting a test drive in a mock primary election.

“Nearly 1,300 Vermonters cast their ballots in this mock election, and all of them got the chance to experience a simple, clear method of voting that allowed them to choose the candidates who best represented their values without having to worry about anyone being a spoiler,” said Paul Burns, VPIRG’s executive director.

According to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which monitors the U.S. election process, “Ranked-choice voting makes our democracy more equitable and gives voters more choice at the ballot box.”

Voting for more than one candidate on the ballot in a single race may seem a little odd to most, but to those familiar with ranked-choice voting, it has provided a way to improve voting and elections. (Ranked-choice voting) elections are more inclusive because it gives voters an easy and more meaningful way to express their candidate preferences, the CLC website indicates.

According to Jesse Clark, a doctorate student in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ranked-choice voting can be broken down into two main types: instant-runoff voting (IRV) and single-transferrable vote (STV). IRV is currently used in Maine. It works by allowing voters to rank as many of their preferences as they see fit. If a candidate breaks 50% of first-place votes, they win the election. If not, it goes into a vote reallocation. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who named that candidate as their first are then allocated to their second choice. This process continues until one candidate reaches a minimum 50%+1 of the remaining votes.

According to Clark, in an STV system, there are multiple winners in each race, and voters rank as many candidates as they wish. If a candidate breaks the threshold of first-place votes to be elected, votes from different precincts are randomly assigned to their second choice. This continues until all available seats in an election have been filled.

This initiative has been enacted in Alaska, Maine and more than 20 cities across the country, and ensures that the majority winner prevails, even when there are more than two candidates in the race.

According to Burns, participants in the mock election were allowed to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary and rank their preferred candidates in the elections for U.S. House and Senate. Because the participants in the mock election were self-selected, the results should not be taken as a scientific measure of current public opinion or used to predict who will actually win the upcoming primary races.

“Here in Vermont, it’s not at all unusual to have three or more candidates running for a single seat in primaries or general elections,” said Burns. “Under our current system of voting, which can result in the winner having less than majority support. It can also force voters to try to game the system or choose between the ‘lesser of two evils’ just so their vote will count.”

According to Burns, in three of the four primary races covered in the mock election, a majority winner emerged in the first tally of votes. This included the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, where Rep. Peter Welch had 76% of the vote to 15% for Isaac Evans-Frantz and 9% for Niki Thran.

In the Democratic primary for U.S. House, the mock election was carried by current state Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint with 59%; Lt. Gov. Molly Gray had 29%, followed by Sianay Chase Clifford with 9% and Louis Meyers with 3%.

In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the mock election had former federal prosecutor Christina Nolan at 67%, besting her opponents Gerald Malloy (20%) and Myers Mermel (14%).

In the mock race for the Republican nomination for U.S. House, however, RCV did come into play.

In that race, Ericka Bundy Redic had 39% of the votes in the first round, compared to 32% for Anya Tynio and 29% for Liam Madden. Under RCV, Madden was eliminated from the race and those who ranked him first had their second-choice votes applied. This then produced a majority winner, with Bundy Redic getting 54% of the second-round vote, compared with Tynio with 46%.

Overall, what we like about ranked-choice voting is that it forces candidates to abandon negative campaign tactics because candidates not only need the first choice votes of their supporters, but also the second and third choice votes from voters who prefer other candidates. CLC cites a study has shown that jurisdictions with ranked-choice voting have experienced friendlier campaigns and majority support in the cities using it.

We like clean, issue-driven, equitable elections. We look forward to seeing one.

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