On Nov 3: Ranking Candidates Elects The Best
The polar icecap of politics is breaking up. Both voters and legislators are reforming the electoral process. Then the citizenry’s best values and highest goals can win.
October 20, 2020
Jeffery J. Smith

This November, Maine citizens won’t be limited to voting for one candidate. Instead, they’ll rank the candidates. At the top of their list goes whom they really want to win, at the bottom goes whom they can’t stand.

Victory won’t go to whoever gets the most votes if that candidate gets less than 50% of the votes cast—a system which the Brits call “first past the post”. Instead, a candidate will have to have a majority to win.

Ranking can work the way sportswriters do it when determining the number one college football or basketball team. Their top choice is worth three points, their second worth two, their third one. If there are more candidates to choose from, your top choice could be worth five, etc, down to your fifth being worth one. Easy peasy. If sportswriters can do—they’re not any closer to genius than the rest of us—then anyone can do it.

However, wonks don’t find easy appealing. Instead, they break up your ballot into rounds. First they count everyone’s top fave. If one candidate wins over half the votes, they’re done. If not, then they count everyone’s second fave, add that onto the results of the first round. They continue until someone gets over half the votes. Same result as weighting your votes, but nicely complicated and more expensive, making wonks happy.

When able to rank, if you don’t like any of the mainstream candidates, you don’t have to vote for one of them just because s/he might stand a better chance of winning. If you vote for a candidate the media ignore, you won’t throw your vote away thereby helping a mainstream candidate you don’t love win. That’s because the votes cast for less favored candidates will also be counted.

If your first choice does not win, your second choice may or may not. If not, and if your third choice loses, too, you must consider yourself way out of step with your neighbors.

Also, two (or more) candidates with similar platforms can both run, split the vote of people who like that platform, and not throw the election to a candidate with a distinctly different platform. The ranking system ends up adding together the votes for the similar platforms and assigns them to the one candidate who edged out the others of similar ideology.

Ranking Candidates Is Powerful Medicine

Wonks call this fuller expression of a voter’s preferences not what normal people might call it—ranking. They needed to amalgamate more terms—ranked-choice voting (RCV). Or preferential voting. It’s like they own stock in ink and paper.

Whichever ranking system is in play, it eliminates the need for a runoff election after the general in case nobody gets over fifty percent and the law requires that. Actually, even more than a simple majority, a polity could require the winner to receive two thirds or three quarters—consensus levels of support, promoting society-wide unity.

Furthermore, ranking eliminates the need for a primary election, too. If a party still wants to have one, they can, without imposing its cost on everyone else. No matter the results of that party-members-only election, citizens could still vote for any candidate who qualifies for an official government election.

Ranking further obviates the already unnecessary and distortionary Electoral College. Better still, it makes pointless and thus de-motivates corrupt practices like gerrymandering. Once ranking lets honest candidates win, then there’ll be fewer politicos around who suppress votes and engage in voter fraud or voter suppression. They might even be able to get money out of politics.

However, in politics is right where some want money to be. In Maine, Republican Paul LePage won the governorship twice without winning a majority. Maine wanted to fix that. In 2016, voters passed RCV for statewide elections. The Republican Party sued to overturn the result. Maine's Supreme Court upheld the will of the voters.

The Bright Future of Ranking Candidates

Maine citizens will be the first state to rank candidates for president. Following them will be both red and blue states. November 3, Alaskans will decide whether to institute ranked-choice voting for general elections, including voting for president.

Massachusetts voters will decide whether to adopt it for state offices and congressional races. Utah in 2018 and Virginia in 2020 enacted legislation authorizing  RCV in local elections. Five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina—use a ranked-choice system for military and overseas voters.

So far in 2020, legislators in 22 states and Washington DC have introduced 67 bills to use ranked-choice voting at various levels. In 2017 in 17 states, just 31 bills were introduced. In 2020, four state Democratic parties used ranked-choice voting in their presidential primaries. Both the Utah Democratic and Republican parties used it for their virtual conventions.

Ranking is a century old in America. Several cities adopted it throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Currently, 18 cities use it in one form or another, including Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota, and San Francisco, Oakland, and other Bay Area cities in California. At least three more cities will start using ranking in 2021. Already, Hollywood uses it for delegating the Academy Awards.

Outside the U.S., a handful of countries use variations of ranked choice, including Ireland, Estonia, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Leaders Who Don’t Fear Voters Can Lead

When citizens vote for policies they want enacted, then more candidates with new ideas and big solutions to big problems win. With people in office willing to listen and act, that gives deep reforms—ones that’d be capstones to paradigm shifts—a chance to become law.

Politically, legislators might make it so …
* all candidates have to qualify for the ballot by gathering signatures—Democrats and Republicans, too, not just Greens and Libertarians;
* legislative seats would reflect the strength of all parties, not just the two familiar ones—i.e., “proportional representation”;
* one of the two chambers becomes a grand grand jury, big enough to reflect a cross section of society—like 400 members; they’d not be elected but randomly selected; they’d not introduce and pass legislation but could investigate like a government ombudsman and initiate ballot measures and hold referendums and recalls; finally, all voices would be heard so nobody would feel like they’re being ignored (a big complaint of people who vote for Trump). And …
* term limits might be enacted.

With such political reforms in place, then economic ones that have been patiently waiting on the shelf could finally be legislated into law, too. For instance, elected officials might …
* amend the constitution to curb the power to tax and spend; legislatures would have to recover all socially generated values before taxing any individual values; that is, government collects the annual rental value of locations and natural resources before taxing buildings, sales, and incomes;
* no longer be allowed to endow special interests but only spend on programs that benefit all citizens equally, which pretty much limits them to very few expenditures, leaving a huge surplus to share as dividends to the citizenry. And …
* charge no less than full market value for privileges such as corporate charters, leases of pubic land, land titles, patents, waivers of standards, etc.

That’s the endgame. The first move is to institute ranking. Voting for whom you believe in would make voting fun again. Turnouts would be in the high 90s. A big early step will be taken Nov 3.

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Jeffery J. Smith

JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to Progress.org. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at Progress.org.