Ranked choice voting would strengthen our democracy

Ranked choice voting would strengthen our democracy

  • Wednesday, July 15, 2020 5:30am
  • Opinion

Although our beloved democracy is facing many challenges (voter suppression and attacks on the rule of law, to name two), there’s reason for hope. Conservatives and liberals alike are speaking out for better government. Now is the time to examine means of strengthening our democracy. One improvement would be adopting a system of ranked choice voting (RCV).

RCV is likely new to Washingtonians, but it is being used in many countries as well as in American cities, universities, corporations and states. Maine voted in 2015 to use it in statewide elections, expanding to the presidential election this year. Both John McCain and Barrack Obama have supported RCV.

Over the years, Washington state has used different types of primary elections. From 1907 to 1935, voters declared a political party, receiving one ballot for that party. Washingtonians are an independent lot, and voted in 1935 to adopt a “blanket primary,” which allows voters to split their votes between parties. Washingtonians prefer picking the candidate, not the party.

However, political parties don’t like the blanket primary. Neither party wants members of the opposing party crossing over to select their party’s candidates, and they challenged the blanket primary’s constitutionality. After court battles, Washington’s blanket primary was found constitutional. Since 2003, we have used the “top two primary” (TTP), a type of blanket primary. In the TTP, voters select from all candidates for an office, regardless of party, and the two candidates getting the most votes proceed to the general election.

Before explaining how ranked choice voting works, we will look at the problems with the top two primary.

Unfortunately, the TTP can, and indeed has, resulted in voter disenfranchisement and undemocratic results. Here’s how: Say Party A runs two candidates for an office and Party B runs three candidates. After votes are counted, the two Party A candidates each got 21% of the vote for a total of 42%. The three Party B candidates each get 19.33% of the vote for a total of 58%. In this scenario, since Party A candidates received the top-two vote counts, only candidates from Party A will appear on the November ballot, even though Party A received a minority of the total votes. The majority of voters (58%) who picked Party B candidates will not have any Party B candidate to vote for in the November election. Many will feel disenfranchised.

In 2016, this scenario played out Washington’s race for State Treasurer. That race had two Republicans (Duane Davidson and Michael Waite) running in the primary against three Democrats (Marko Liias, John Comerford, Alec Fisken). Davidson received 25.09% and Waite 23.33% for a total Republican vote of 48.42%. Liias received 20.36%, Comerford 17.97%, and Fisken 13.24% for a total of 51.57%. Because Davidson and Waite had the top-two vote counts, the general election included only Republicans. The majority of voters, who voted for Democrats, had only Republicans to vote for.

Summary: the TTP can result in minority rule, and parties will try to limit the number of candidates running for an office, restricting freedom of choice.

RCV ensures elected officials have support from a majority of voters, avoiding minority rule. It doesn’t require party affiliation, but it respects voters’ independence, allowing voters to split their vote between parties. Instead of forcing you to vote for the candidate you think can win, RCV allows you to vote your heart. It offers a wider candidate selection, and doesn’t favor any party. Depending on how RCV is used, it could even save money by eliminating the need for both primary and general elections.

RCV is a simple voting system. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to describe in words, and people have some trouble understanding it initially. Luckily, there are short excellent videos on the internet that quickly illustrate how it works. FairVote.com is a non-partisan national organization dedicated to making sure every vote is counted. They strongly advocate RCV, and have an excellent video tutorial. Radio station KQED also has a video illuminating the idea.

In RCV, you rank your choices #1, #2, #3 (etc.) for a particular office. You can pick from all the candidates running for an office, regardless of party. A candidate must have a majority to win. If in the first vote count, one candidate gets 51%, they win. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. But the people who voted for the eliminated candidate still have a voice as their #2 choice is now counted in a second vote tally. After the second tally, if no candidate has a majority, again the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The people who voted for the second eliminated candidate now have their next choice counted in the third tally. This process is repeated until one candidate achieves a majority.

State Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-District 36) is running for Secretary of State against incumbent Kim Wyman (R), and suggests evaluating RCV as an alternative to the TTP. Hence, RCV could be an issue in Washington’s 2020 election.

With RCV’s many advantages, it’s growing in popularity. It might seem a little confusing at first, but it’s really pretty simple. After reading my description of RCV, my wife says, “Check out the videos.”

Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley. He and his family have lived in Snoqualmie since 1979. Contact him through the editor by email: editor@valleyrecord.com.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Why should the threat to Taiwan concern us in WA? | Brunell

Unfortunately, what happens in Taiwan doesn’t just stay in Taiwan — it… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Election 2021: Closer look at King County races | Roegner

The race for Mayor of Seattle will dominate the regional media, but… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Questions surround vaccine exemptions for state workers | Roegner

With about 4,800 state employees in 24 agencies requesting vaccine exemptions, which… Continue reading

Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray serves as Faculty of English at Highline College. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literary studies, British literature, and rhetoric and composition. Prior to teaching in the U.S., she worked as an editor with Routledge and taught English at colleges in India.
What the Afghan wants to say: Arezo’s journey to America | Guest column

In our little Zoom room, I hear my interviewee break into sobs.… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Can a Texas-style abortion law happen in Washington? | Roegner

If politicians really want to anger women voters, the easiest way is… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Reasons to ban Gov. Jay Inslee’s natural gas ban | Brunell

Column: Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone.

William Shaw is General Manager of the Snoqualmie Valley Record. Contact: wshaw@valleyrecord.com.
Independent community journalism is crucial — now more than ever

During these times of change and division, the need to highlight what brings our community together is even stronger.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Vaccinations improve our health and employment numbers | Brunell

It is not surprising that COVID-19, which ravaged the world, was disastrous… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Firefighters vs. the governor’s vaccine mandate | Roegner

We all thought we were in this fight with the coronavirus together,… Continue reading

Providence employees look at anti-vaccine mandate protesters as they cross the street outside of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Aug. 18, 2021. Olivia Vanni/Sound Publishing
Editorial: A message to the unvaccinated and unmasked

We know you’re frustrated with mandates and advice, but consider our frustrations and, yes, our anger.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Back to the classroom during abnormal times | Roegner

If it didn’t feel so normal, we might forget about the coronavirus… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
What’s up with the real estate market? | Guest column

As we all know, the residential real estate market and prices have… Continue reading