The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of democracy. It’s risky for people to step outside even when it comes to the civic duty of voting.

There have been calls for online voter registration and expansion of mail-in ballots — though the latter met opposition from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whereas these calls serve to ensure the physical safety of voters in the coronavirus age, there’s an under-discussed potential reform: ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting. Galveston County wouldn’t have undergone its costly runoff if ranked-choice voting was utilized in the primary back in March.

Ranked-choice voting is an electoral system where instead of just picking one candidate, your “one and only,” you have the option to rank your candidates. Who’s your first choice? Second choice? Third choice?

You might be confused. Does ranked choice mean you vote for more than one person for an office position? Not quite. More like you vote for the candidate you like — instead of who you think would win — and have the opportunity to make backup votes.

It works like this: If your first choice receives the least votes, your vote will defer to your second choice through the elimination process. And if your second choice doesn’t receive enough votes and is eliminated, your vote will go to your third choice and the elimination continues until the majority-winner is calculated.

This is pretty useful when it comes to crowded tickets where it’s difficult for one candidate to receive the 50 percent plus 1 majority. Within the United States, municipalities in states like Colorado and California use ranked choice, and the state of Maine utilizes ranked choice on federal, state and municipal levels.

So, if you’re sick of the Republican versus Democrat two-party system, ranked choice is the ideal nonpartisan reform for you because it gives independent and third-party candidates a fairer shot without the fear of wasting your vote and splitting the ticket. It also incentivizes candidates to collaborate with their own competitors rather than encourage them to insult and attack each other.

Lastly, it’s fiscally responsible because it eliminates the need for runoff elections, which is why it’s called instant runoff. When we’re past the pandemic, eliminated runoffs would save millions and spare you from having to schedule yet another voting day or miss work to vote in person. And if you still just want to pick your “one and only” like Texas typically still does, that’s fine. You can still do that with ranked-choice voting.

Caroline M. Cao lives in League City.


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(18) comments

Carlos Ponce

Ranked-choice voting[thumbdown].

George Soros

Wow great insight Carlos! This might be your best yet!

Richard Illyes

This is a great idea that has been used in Australia for over a century. It is good to see it getting some support. There is a simpler version that would not involve major changes in existing voting systems, placement of a second block for races having more than two candidates. The second block would be used for those who would have a second choice if their first choice was not in the runoff. It would also end runoff elections, and since most voters only have one second choice it would accomplish the purpose of ranked choice voting with less need for major change.

Bailey Jones

It's a simple, practical and reasonable reform. It's worth doing just in terms of cost savings. I don't know how much this latest runoff cost, but I'm sure the money could be better spent on something else. When you think about it, voting is rarely a binary choice. When someone asks, "who are you voting for in the primary", the answer is usually along the lines of "I think A can win, but I really like B". I'd like to be able to vote for B as my first choice, and A as my second. If B does poorly, I still get to vote for A.

Carlos Ponce

"Ranked Choice Voting Is a Bad Choice"

"A False Majority: The Failed Experiment of Ranked-Choice Voting"

Sharon Stratman

From the Heritage Foundation article: "In the end, it is all about political power, not about what is best for the American people and for preserving our great republic. So-called reformers want to change process rules so they can manipulate election outcomes to obtain power."

I wonder if they're afraid their voter suppression and gerrymandering schemes designed to artificially retain power will be diluted by ranked choice voting. After all, Republicans are the only ones who know "what is best for the American people".

Bailey Jones

Bogus logic from the Heritage Foundation, as is typical. Their objection is, for instance, "what happened in Australia (which uses ranked choice voting) in the 2010 election. The liberal Labor Party won the Australian House despite receiving only “38 percent of first-place votes on the initial ballot, while the second-place Liberal-National coalition [the center right choice] captured 43 percent” of first-place votes."

The obvious inference is that guy with 43% in the first round should have one. If that's the case, why even have a run off? If the runoff elects the Labor Party, is that not valid because they only got 38% of the vote in the first round? No. This is nonsense.

The Heritage Foundation is, literally, a foundation of false assumptions - which leads invariably to wrong conclusions. You would do better to think things through on your own.

Ralph Mcmorris

Great plan! Result would be better choices, less divisiveness. What is next step to implement?

Jim Forsythe

Why do we have runoffs, when the winner could be determined without the add expense and time required.

Ranked choice voting ensures that candidates with the most votes and broadest support win, so voters get what they want. Candidates who are opposed by a majority of voters can never win ranked choice voting elections. Ranked choice voting levels the playing field for all candidates and encourages candidates to take their case directly to you with a focus on the issues. Candidates are encouraged to seek second choice rankings from voters whose favorite candidate is somebody else. You are less likely to rank as your second choice a candidate who has issued personal attacks against your favorite candidate.

Jeff Patterson


Dan Freeman

Some pros and cons of Ranked Choice Voting:


1. More expressivity than plurality voting (voters can say more about their candidate preferences)

2. Voters can vote honest favorite

3. Lowers some costs associated with two-round system elections (e.g., common in California elections, see California Proposition 14)

4. Proponents claim it reduces negative campaigning

5. Proponents claim it increases voter turnout

6. Strongest political momentum of the voting alternatives


1. Unfamiliar to many

2. Complex calculation process

3. Confusion has led to over-voting and under-voting (more eliminated ballots)

4. Information costs (ranking more than one candidate requires more voter knowledge)

5. Voter fatigue in the ranking process

6. Critics claim decreases voter turnout

7. Critics worry combining two elections (e.g., two-round system in California) into one reduces public exposure to candidate positions on issues

8. Less sophisticated voters tend to be marginalized (e.g., choose not to vote at all, ballots disqualified because of over or under-voting)

9. Constitutional challenges

10. Can be expensive to implement

11. Creates a false majority (e.g., 3rd ranked choices can get redistributed as a 1st ranked choices; many ballots are disqualified)

12. Practicing jurisdictions experience time delays if runoff is necessary (not ÒinstantÓ; have to wait for ballots from least popular candidates to be redistributed)

13. Potential security problems if using computerized voting system (hacking)

14. Manual recount and verification difficult

15. Tends to squeeze out moderate candidates (see software engineerÕs computer simulation with explanation here)

16. Has not reduced 2-party dominance in Australia

17. Winner-turns-loser paradox (because of redistribution of ballots, increases in popularity can cause a winner to lose, and decreases can cause a loser to win

Diane Turski

I like the concept!

Jose' Boix

Simple to use Plurality Voting vs. Majority Voting. Just my thoughts.

Bailey Jones

I've always wondered why we don't have plurality voting.

Jose' Boix

Texas City Commissioners' including the Mayor are all elected - and have been for years - by plurality voting. There are no "run-offs." Such approach is included in our City Charter.

David Hardee

Runoffs weed out the weak candidates and make the platform more concise.and reduce the number of choices in the final so voters are able to make a decision without all the menueca.

A plurality vote system is over weighted to the mega city influence. This is not a democracy it is a combination democratic republic. The combing of a runoff and electoral college concept is not a frivolous construction fo simple minds.

It is the simple minded that cannot recognize the benefit and protection of the laborious work in expended to conceptualize and implement this system.

Jose' Boix

Since the headline is Election Reform, we need to start by limiting the funds spent and campaign time. It is beyond comprehension what some political races spend and for such a long time that most get "election fatigue." That is a start of the "Reform" process. Just my thoughts.

David Hardee

Reform not needed! And any local election where the candidates are up close and personal like Trexas City is no model for a national election where candidates are obscure except for Ads. news and especially the debates. The purifying of a platform thru the process is extremely informative for a voter that is wanting to vote wisely. Think it thru - the present system is secure and efficient.

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