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.