Ranked choice voting may be the solution for our broken two-party politics

picture of a vote box
Mattchew Rietveld / The Watchdog

Today, we are more divided than ever. Our political discourse has become a wasteland of echo chambers scattered across a political battlefield, each side digging their trenches forever deeper. Any leader brave enough to raise the white flag of compromise and walk across the scorched earth is shot by their own men long before their enemies can greet them in kind. 

Those caught in the war feel trapped, unable to abandon their side and fight for reasonable solutions. They fear unending war, still more they fear defeat. This war has become so vicious and the sides so uncompromising, it has eroded the once great democratic institutions of our country to the ineffectual partisan battlegrounds we know today.

Today, we blame the “do nothing democrats” or the “obstructionist republicans,” depending on whose side one is on. So terrible is this conflict and so divided are we that it may come as a surprise to many that this era of political division has far less to do with ourselves or our politicians than it does with the system itself.

 Across America, the standard system of voting used is the plurality method. Everybody marks down which candidate they like best, the votes are tallied up, and whoever gets the most votes wins. It seems simple, but it has a glaring flaw — the “spoiler effect.” When three candidates run for president, if two have conservative views and only one has more liberal views, then the two conservative candidates will split the vote and both lose.

The voters, realizing this, will all vote for the more popular conservative candidate next election to prevent the liberal from taking office, because while they might prefer a different candidate, they feel like a vote for their preferred candidate will be “wasted.” Thus, a two party system is inevitably born.

            Luckily, this systematic problem has a systematic solution: Ranked choice voting. In RCV, voters rank each of the candidates in order of their preference, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the ballots of those that voted for the eliminated candidate are redistributed to their second choices. This process of elimination and redistribution is then repeated until any one candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote. 

In this way, you can vote for any candidate you like without fear of “throwing your vote away.” Not only that, but because candidates are competing for second and third-choice votes as well as first-choice votes, candidates are encouraged to appeal to a broader portion of the demographic, thus better representing their constituents. Finally, candidates are discouraged from negative campaigning—if you insult someone’s first-choice candidate, you probably won’t become their second-choice.  

This isn’t just theory either. Australia, Ireland and a host of other nations have been using the system to great effect for quite some time now, and the system is spreading across the United States. RCV is already enacted in Maine, and bills to implement it have been introduced in New Mexico, Massachusetts, Alaska, Utah and Vermont. 

            The two major political parties benefit from the current forced lack of competition, so change is unlikely to come from within, especially on a national level. If this is a change we want, it is going to have to come from the people, state by state, building into a national movement, because it is high time America stopped voting against the people we hate, and started voting for the people we love.