Here in the United States, we live in a two-party system - a system that discourages alternative views, is non-competitive, and encourages voter apathy. To help encourage participation in the democratic process, moving away from First Past The Post and replacing it with Ranked Choice Voting [Note 1] is essential. Without it, we will continue to encourage living in a two-party system and minority rule.
During the 2016 US Presidential Elections, less than 60% of eligible voters cast ballots for the general election , which is another way of saying that 40% of voters did not want to have either major candidate as president. With a voting-eligible population of about 230,585,915 , we can say that Hillary R. Clinton got 28.5% of the vote (65,845,063), Donald J. Trump got 27.3% of the vote (62,980,160), Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin got a combined 2.9% of the vote (6,674,811), and those staying at home were about 41.2% of those who could have voted (95,085,881) [Note 2] - the minority is ruling once again, as 27.3% of the voting-eligible population determined who is to be president. Some of that is due to restrictive voter laws [Note 3], some is due to difficulties in getting to polling places or registering to vote , and a good deal is from the lack of electoral competitiveness  - however, the lack of electoral competitiveness can be resolved with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The lack of electoral competitiveness comes from wasted votes, gerrymandering, tactical voting, and the spoiler effect, each being symptoms resulting from the two-party system that is created by our First Past The Post (FPTP) process, and are issues that RCV can solve.
Wasted votes are votes that are unable to help a candidate in an election. These wasted votes are for opposition candidates in safe states [Note 4] and for third party candidates in general  (Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, came in 3rd place with 1.9% of votes from the voting-eligible population). Some say that voting third party send a message to the two major parties - however, considering that 40% of voters don’t even vote, the 2.9% who vote for third parties aren’t being heard. That is not conducive to having a healthy democracy where all members of a republic have a say in the running of government - that is encouraging a sort of “dictatorship lite.” This is a continuation of the minority rule: just over a quarter of the population gets to make decisions for the whole.
With FPTP, gerrymandering is made into a viable way to make safe seats (and safe states) for politicians by redrawing election maps into ones that heavily favor certain parties. Imagine, if you will, three political parties: the Daisy Party, the Periwinkle Party, and the Vermillion Party. These parties are in an area with 10 residents which needs to be split up into two districts. There happens to be 3 members of the Daisy Party, 3 members of the Vermillion Party, and 4 members of the Periwinkle Party, but the Daisy and Vermillion Parties are the two major parties can can draw the district lines. It is in their best interests to draw it so that one district has 3 Daisies and 2 Vermillions, while the other district has 3 Periwinkles and 2 Vermillions - though more people want that third choice, Periwinkle, they don’t get heard. For more, I strongly suggest that you all watch Gerrymandering Explained by CGP Grey - it goes into further detail and uses buffalos and jackalopes to illustrate the point.
Tactical voting is where someone votes for a strategically tolerable candidate in an attempt to prevent the opposing major candidate from winning the election instead of voting for the candidate that the person actually prefers. This occurs when one knows that their preferred candidate has little chance of actually winning an election and wants to do what they can to help someone who at least is somewhat aligned with their ideology into office. Tactical voting is supported through the use of scare tactics, where one party demonizes the opposing candidate  in an attempt to get undecided and third-party voters to turn away from the opposing candidate. There is also the fear that one’s vote will be wasted, as earlier discussed, as well as fearing the spoiler effect.
The spoiler effect is the effect that occurs when candidates with similar ideologies or politics run, splitting the votes between the two and allowing the opposing candidate to win ; even though the spoiler candidate cannot win, whether it is due to tactical voting, gerrymandering, or other reasons, the votes going to them are votes that could have gone to the more viable candidate. Spoiler effect is closely tied in with both tactical voting and wasted votes, as the spoiler effect part of the reason why people do not waste their votes on candidates who are perceived as being unable to win, and why votes for third party candidates are considered to be wasted votes.
RCV is a solution for each of these problems. RCV is a voting system where voters can rank their preferred candidates on an ordinal scale, giving people a competitive election as candidates have to reach out to all electors. The winning candidate has to appeal to the most number of people , having a coalition of persons who ranked them as their first, second, or third choice candidates. This creates an outcome of the majority of people having to vote for a candidate instead of the minority - for example, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey won because he was ranked first, second, or third on 52% of all ballots  instead of earning only 40% of cast votes [Note 5]. It is easy to use and understand  , and is positive for the democratic process.
In both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, we can see that RCV has helped increase voter turnout , even though 2017 was not a presidential year. Minneapolis even made a handy tabulation summary where one can see how each round of the ranked choice voting went and how the votes distributed. With the increased turnout, we get a better look at the direction that the members of public want their republic to go - there is no more fear of wasted votes, and tactical voting is greatly reduced  because people can vote for whom they want to without having to worry about whom others are voting for. Since people are voting for multiple candidates and ranking their preferred choices, people have the freedom to vote based off of who is best instead of who is least worst. And votes cannot be gerrymandered away, as people will not have to look to their neighbors and wonder who they are voting for to figure out if they need to vote strategically.
The concept of spoiler candidates is also greatly reduced, as people can rank their candidate choices. A new candidate or party can come along and run on their own merits, and people can vote for them without having to worry that their votes will cause someone else to lose - having multiple people to vote for and ranking the preference helps make this a preferable system. Though there is still the possibility of the spoiler effect with RCV - an example being a center-left voter ranking an extreme-left candidate as their second choice to help prevent a right-wing candidate from winning, but this is not to the same degree as with FPTP.
What Can We Do:
In your cities, support RCV legislation. Vote for amendments for RCV, and support organizations that advocate for RCV, like Fair Vote. Change starts locally, and so when enough municipalities and states switch to RCV, federal elections will have to follow.
- Other names for Ranked Choice Voting include Instant Runoff Voting, Preferential Voting, Alternative Voting, and Transferable Voting.
- Though Hillary R. Clinton won the popular vote, Donald J. Trump won the electoral college, being now the 4th time the person who lost the popular vote became president , giving a 7% failure rate to the election process. However, problems with the electoral college will have to be saved for a later post, and so I recommend watching the following in the interim:
- Adam Ruins Everything - Why the Electoral College Ruins Democracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90RajY2nrgk
- CGP Grey on The Electoral College: http://www.cgpgrey.com/the-electoral-college/
- CGP Grey’s The Trouble With The Electoral College: http://www.cgpgrey.com/blog/the-trouble-with-the-electoral-college.html
- [UPDATED VERSION!] The Trouble With The Electoral College: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcZTTB10_Vo
- Certain states have been enacting restrictive voter laws that target minorities , especially after parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2013  - however, that is another topic that needs to be saved for a later post.
- A “safe state” is a state where a candidate does not need to campaign because that state is solidly democrat or republican; that is, it is not a swing state , nor is it a state that is becoming a swing state . Minnesota may be becoming such a state.
- What I didn’t mention when giving the number of votes that Clinton and Trump earned was how many they got out of ballots cast, being 48% and 45.9%, respectively.
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