Ranked choice voting allows voters to select their first choice, and then rank remaining candidates based on the order of their preferences. We instinctually rank things all the time in our daily lives. If the supermarket was out of your favorite ice cream flavor (rocky road), what might you choose as your back-up… cookies and cream? Mint chocolate chip?
Furthermore, RCV ensures a majority winner and curbs the “spoiler” effect of third-party candidates in a race. We like this example in a recent article by The Chicago Daily Herald:
Imagine George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler running in a primary race for one open school board seat. Washington gets 25% of the vote, Lincoln gets 25%, Roosevelt gets 24%, and Hitler, hated by 74% of voters, wins the election with 26% of the votes.
Under ranked choice voting, Roosevelt’s last-place finish would drop her from the running and allow the system to count the second choices on those ballots. If those votes were equally split between Lincoln and Washington, they’d each have 37% of the vote, dropping Hitler to last place among the remaining candidates. The system would then eliminate Hitler and use the second choices on those ballots, which would give either Lincoln or Washington the win and the support of the majority of voters.
Since World War II, seven presidents have been elected with less than 50% of the popular vote: Donald Trump (46%) in 2016, George W. Bush (47.9%) in 2000, Bill Clinton (43%) in 1991, and (49.2%) in 1996, Richard Nixon (43.4%) in 1968, John Kennedy (49.7) in 1960, and Harry Truman (49.4%) in 1948.
“People are saying, ‘Wait. There has to be a better solution,'” says Szilva.
If ranking had been used in all those presidential races, the second-place votes on ballots for losing candidates such as Ralph Nader, Gary Johnson, Ross Perot, George Wallace or Strom Thurmond could have changed the election, and at least ensured that the president captured a majority of the votes.