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NPR: How Ranked-Choice Voting Is Changing Politics

This broadcast originally aired on NPR.

Most voters in the U.S. only select one candidate when they’re filling out a ballot. But what if we all were able to vote for several candidates in order of preference?

In 2016, voters in Maine approved a referendum to implement ranked-choice voting (RCV) for statewide elections.

Russell Berman explained how it works in The Atlantic:

Ranked-choice voting, which cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine, use to elect their mayors, has been likened to an “instant runoff”: Instead of selecting just one candidate, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and whoever their voters chose as their second choice is added to the tally of the remaining contenders. That process continues until there are only two candidates left, and the one with the most votes wins.

Supporters say RCV ensures that candidates with the broadest coalitions of support will win, and that it allows voters to choose the candidate they prefer without splitting the vote and handing the election to the other party. They also say RCV will inspire more positive campaigning, because candidates will aim to become voter’s second and third choices instead of targeting each other with negative advertisements. Further, they hope that RCV could create room for third-party candidates.

Opponents say that in practice, RCV does not guarantee majority rule or more positive campaigns. And they argue it can obscure differences between candidates and be confusing to voters.

With the nation so divided, and elections so contentious, will changing how we vote change how we engage in politics?

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  • Rob Richie President and CEO, FairVote, a non-profit election reform organization; @Rob_Richie
  • Jill Ward President, League of Women Voters of Maine; @jmward23
  • John Whitehurst Democratic political consultant based in San Francisco
  • Jason Savage Executive director, Maine Republican Party
  • Phillipe Cunningham Councilman representing Ward 4, City Council of Minneapolis; @CunninghamMPLS