Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 21, 2014

A better way to vote: ranked-choice voting

By Eric Hart | Nov 14, 2013

To the editor:

Once again we are having a runoff election, this time between Flournoy and Bosold for City Council on Dec. 3.

Runoff elections are expensive and time-consuming. They seem to be necessary so that we can meet our fairness requirement of having a majority winner. But, in fact, runoff elections are not necessary. There is a better way to vote, a way that meets all our current requirements for fair voting, including a majority winner, but which eliminates runoff elections. It’s called ranked-choice voting.

Minneapolis uses it and just avoided a runoff election – their mayor was elected quickly and fairly last week without a runoff, or rather, they were able to have an “instant runoff” with just one election because they use ranked-choice voting.

Mathematicians have shown that this is a good way to vote and it’s gaining popularity. Besides Minneapolis, ranked-choice voting is used, for example, in Oakland, Portland (Maine), San Francisco, Telluride (Colorado), Ann Arbor, and Burlington (Vermont). Internationally, it is used in Australia, Bosnia, London, Wellington (New Zealand), and Hong Kong.

We could use ranked-choice voting in Fairfield. It’s easy, quick, and fair. Here’s how it works.

Suppose there are three candidates running for office, A, B, and C. Instead of going into the voting booth and just voting for your favorite candidate, you vote by ranking the candidates. Suppose 10 people vote BAC. That is, 10 people vote by ranking B as their first choice, A as their second choice, and C as their third choice. Suppose eight people vote ACB and five people vote CBA. Based on just first-choice votes, which is basically how we vote now, B gets 10, A gets eight, and C gets five. Nobody has a majority, so we need a runoff.

But since we know each voter’s ranking, we can do the runoff instantly! No waiting, no separate election, no added expense. B and A are the top first-choice vote getters, 10 to eight, so they are in the runoff.

We carry out the runoff instantly using the existing ballots, without a separate election. For the five voters who wanted C, their candidate is out, but their votes are not lost. Transfer their votes to their second-choice candidate, which is B. Thus, B now has 10 + 5 = 15 votes, which is a majority, and B wins. Voila! An instant runoff, a majority winner, easily done using ranked-choice voting.

I vote to use ranked-choice voting in Fairfield. Political scientists and mathematicians agree that it is better than the old method of voting for just your favorite candidate. Besides eliminating separate runoff elections, other advantages include allowing voters to better express their support for underdog candidates.

Ranked-choice voting is efficient and yields results that better represent the will of the people. By making one small change–vote by ranking the candidates, we gain the advantages of increased fairness and savings in both time and money.

 

– Eric Hart, Fairfield

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