This system, where candidates are ranked by voters and must gain at least 50% of the vote, is gaining in popularity nationwide.
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Many American voters have long been disillusioned with the two-party system but see voting for a third party as throwing their vote away. This is because the U.S. largely uses a “first-past-the-post” voting system where the candidate with the most votes wins, making it nearly impossible for third parties to break away from the fringe.
Faced with widespread political polarization, some Americans see ranked-choice voting, or “RCV,” as a potential way to address political divides and gain better representation. This voting system, where candidates are ranked by voters and must receive a majority of votes, is debuting for the first time in Oregon in Benton County’s November race for county commissioners. It will be used in the county’s 2022 sheriff race as well.
In Benton County, voters passed Measure 2-100 in 2016, installing RCV for county races by a 54.18 to 44.82% margin. State Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis and attorney Blair Bobier co-petitioned the measure and are shooting for a statewide initiative next.
“We wanted to have a local example of what it could look like in Oregon and get other folks in Oregon excited about it,” Rayfield said.
I’ve been working and advocating for #RankedChoiceVoting for more than a decade. It’s exciting and very meaningful to finally rank my vote this year in Benton County! pic.twitter.com/0ZbPHGYEPY— Dan Rayfield (@DanRayfield) October 16, 2020
Three candidates are running for each of the two county commissioner seats in Benton County, and Rayfield said that RCV has already encouraged more diverse candidates to run because they will not spoil the vote for other candidates. Libertarian, Pacific Green and Progressive Party nominees are now on the county’s ballot.
Rayfield is currently working to build a coalition of people interested in Oregon electoral reform and pushing RCV bills in the 2021 legislative session. They could potentially try to implement RCV in presidential primaries in Oregon, where candidates often win by less than 50%, or in non-partisan races.
So, what exactly is ranked-choice voting and where is it used?
With RCV, voters have the chance to rank their top candidate picks. When the ballots are in, if one candidate clearly has over 50% of the vote, that candidate will be the winner.
Though if no one candidate has a clear majority, the least-preferred candidate will be eliminated, and those votes will be reallocated to the voter’s second choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate has over 50% of the votes.
Unlike first-past-the-post voting, RCV is designed to build consensus and elect candidates that are the most acceptable to the widest number of people possible. It also has the potential to counter polarization by giving candidates an incentive to appeal to voters who may not rank them as their first choice but could rank them as their second.