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Ranked-choice Voting Could Help Independents and Ideas Win

Ranked-choice voting promises a fairer electoral system.

This midterm election season, the nation saw Democrats and Republicans struggle for control of the House of Representatives. The voter was presented with a choice, which party do you want in control, Democrats or Republicans. What if you wanted neither?

Feeling unsatisfied with the two-party system isn’t new. It forces people with a diverse set of platforms and ideologies into two, fairly small boxes. For voters who only care about one issue, it might not be a huge inconvenience. But, shockingly, people care about more than one thing, and their beliefs might not always fall in line with one party or the other.

Voting for independent candidates offers an opportunity out of the rigid binary structure, but it often also presents a moral question. Do I stick more closely with my beliefs or do I vote for the Democrat or Republican, because they’re more likely to win? Is it a waste to vote for an independent candidate with almost no chance of winning? Should I just give up on politics altogether and become a hermit?

These are the sort of questions that run through my mind when I’m thinking about voting outside the traditional two parties. But voters in Maine had a different calculus this midterm season. They had the opportunity to use ranked-choice voting, a system that has the potential to allow more independent candidates and more diversity in the spectrum of political candidates.

How ranked-choice voting can help

Ranked-choice voting is where voters rank their candidates as their first, second or third choices and so on, depending on the number of candidates. First-choice votes for the various candidates are counted first, and if a candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, they win. If no candidate gets over 50 percent of the votes, the candidate with the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated, and those voters’ second-choice votes are counted. This process repeats until one candidate has over 50 percent of the votes.

This system ensures that the winner must have a majority, and is similar to a runoff style election system without actually having to go through with holding a new election. It also could help advantage independent candidates tired of running in a system that almost always has only two possible winners.

With ranked-choice voting, you could vote for the candidate that you believe best fits the job and put a party candidate as your second choice. A vote for an independent would no longer feel like a waste of a vote, and candidates with less funds or resources would still have a chance at winning. Candidates running would be encouraged to reach out to all voters, because even if they aren’t your first-choice, they could be your second.

The use of ranked choice voting was controversial in Maine and its use faces a lawsuit, but it offers an opportunity for a more fair electoral system, where a candidate actually preferred by the majority wins.

Advocates are trying to move ranked-choice voting from Maine to Massachusetts, and hope other states will follow suit. Though controversial, a structural reform like ranked-choice voting might be the only way for more independent candidates to start winning elections.

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Also published on Medium.

Celia is a sophomore and aspiring journalist, majoring in Politics at...