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Ranked Choice Voting Changing Politics

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Greens Take the Lead in the Electoral Reform Movement

By David McCorquodale, Green Party of Delaware

Both national and local Green Party candidates face numerous obstacles in elections. A fear among many voters is that if they vote for a candidate they want, but who is unlikely to pull the votes to win, it takes away from another candidate and essentially gives votes to a much worse candidate. Known as the “spoiler effect,” voters then cast their ballot for a “lesser of two evils” rather than voting for a candidate whose principles they align with.

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) would eliminate that conundrum by allowing voters to vote for as many candidates in an election as they wish by ranking their choices. When the votes are counted, if no candidate wins by a majority, the candidate with the least amount of votes would be eliminated and those votes would be assigned to the second choice. This process would continue until someone wins by a majority.

While RCV is not the only voting reform necessary for the Green Party to obtain electoral success, it could be an important first step. RCV would allow voters to show the amount of true support each candidate has in the first count of the votes. It would put more of a burden on all candidates to address issues they might avoid if there were only two corporate-party candidates, and give Greens and other minor party candidates more opportunities to speak to issues usually avoided in major party races.

“The RCV movement is gaining momentum, with five cities and Alaska adopting it in the 2020 elections. There are now campaigns for RCV organizing in almost every state,” said Howie Hawkins, 2020 Green presidential candidate and RCV organizer in New York.

Green Parties have long championed RCV. Involvement in promoting the issue goes back to at least 2006 when Green Party activist Lynn Serpe was involved in a successful campaign to pass a voter initiative on RCV in Oakland, CA. The measure received a higher percentage vote (68.6 percent) than any other initiative or city candidate in that election.

In the last several years Ranked Choice Voting groups have formed in a number of states with many Greens at the forefront. The state of Maine was the first to pass RCV in 2016 for statewide races after the measure was first adopted by a change to the city charter of Portland in 2010 after Greens, Anna Trevorrow, and Ben Chipman were elected to the city charter commission and pushed for the measure. RCV in Maine has survived numerous attempts to block it by the state legislature, by the Commissioner of Elections, and by a candidate who realized he would lose under its use.  

RCV is now used in all primaries and in general elections including the presidential race in Maine.  In last year’s campaign for U.S. Senate, Green Party candidate Lisa Savage filed to be on the ballot as an independent candidate because of difficult petitioning rules.  Nevertheless, campaign manager Sam Pfeifle noted that because of RCV, Savage received over 40,000 votes, more than five percent, “maybe twice as many first-place votes with RCV as we would have gotten.” 

“I also think RCV was crucial in getting us on four of the five official debate stages. It helped us establish our legitimacy and inclusion in the race.” Pfeifle continued. “[The Democratic candidate] was forced to articulate her health care position more carefully…because we came out so heavily in favor of Medicare for All.”

With the passage of RCV in Maine, the floodgates opened for RCV initiatives in other states. Massachusetts and Alaska had referenda on RCV in 2020. The measure, while receiving 45.22 percent of the votes, lost in Massachusetts, but it won in Alaska by a scant 4,000 votes. Now groups in more states are joining the effort to promote RCV, often with Greens involved in the leadership.

In New York State, Greens are at the forefront of the RCV movement. New York City has just this year started using ranked-choice voting in election primaries. While its use in just primaries has limited impact, Green organizers feel it is a start in the right direction. Working in conjunction with Ranked Choice NY, Greens started advocating throughout the state starting with educating the public about the benefits of RCV, and are optimistic use of this voting methodology could be in common practice by 2024.

Green Party member David Heller has been an RCV advocate since 2000 in San Francisco. He worked on the 2002 RCV campaign in San Francisco and was the campaign coordinator for the 2004 campaign in Berkeley, California, which won with more than 72 percent of the vote. Now living in New York, he has taken his RCV work to the eastern state.

“A little bit of RCV history … the Ranked Choice Voting initiatives in both San Francisco and Berkeley were run out of their local Green Party offices. So I say that with great pride. That was the beginning of this long movement that now has two states fully on board with RCV and more to follow in a much shorter time frame,” Heller said.

In Colorado, Green Party member Desmond Wallington is the third Minor Party Coordinator for Ranked Choice Voting for Colorado. While a bill has been introduced in the state legislature, he says “We are starting with local races and then plan on moving forward to statewide races. It takes time to educate voters in how it works.” The idea was promoted in a campaign in Boulder last November.

Joseph Hellman, a Green Party member in Illinois, notes: “Several of my fellow Illinois Greens are working with FairVote Illinois on efforts to get Ranked Choice passed.” Hellman has run twice for county board in Jackson County promoting RCV with the slogan “Free the Vote.” He believes having received 25 percent in a three-way race is “a sign that many people are at least open to the idea.”  

In New Jersey, while Green Party co-chair Tom Violett and other Greens founded Voter Choice NJ, Greens are a minority of the membership by design because “we are trying to build a mass movement and must work together with anyone in a bi-partisan fashion.” He emphasized it will be a slow process in order to build a membership of 50,000, which would “allow us to have raised enough funds to hire a lobbyist and do polling.”

“The current strategy is to get non-partisan elections to switch to RCV, such as school board and some municipal offices” which would help “demonstrate that RCV will save them a lot of money”. 

Greens have long espoused allowing people to vote for more than one candidate in an election as one of the necessary reforms needed in order for Green candidates to garner more votes.  Since the success of adopting RCV in Maine, Greens have been leaders of growing the Ranked Choice Voting movement in states across the country.

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