Short Course: Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S.A.

Yesterday’s Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S.A. presented several opportunities for debate which included proponents and skeptics showcasing their research from both sides. While a lot of these statistics included research from Bay Area elections, some of presenters looked to other countries, such as Australia, for influence on this voting process.

Ranked Choice Voting is a voting system which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, thereby allowing candidates to receive second or third choice support.

As one supporter in the short courses stated,”That’s like a really good grocery store. Not everyone should have to go in and eat the same thing.”

The debate was very in-depth and presenters showcased their findings from both sides. One of the main advantages that supporters of rank choice voting continued to push was the fact that such voting actively reduced negative campaigning. Without ranked choice voting, there tends to be a lot more hostile, negative campaigning in an attempt to take down a candidate who is a front-runner. However, with one scale of several front-runners who may be ranked in a particular order, this amount of negative campaigning diminishes and, in extremely rare instances, there may be no front-runner which results in very positive campaigning since nobody knows the outcome.

Given these advantages, there was also evidence that ranked choice voting does not do as much to improve voter turnout and, in some cases, may even reduce voter turnout. One of these studies was on the average treatment of ranked voter turnout in a precinct-level analysis of San Francisco which showed that ranked choice voting did not significantly increase Asian and Latino turnout, although it did offer more significant increases to white and black voter turnout.

This same research also showed that ranked choice voting causes a decline in voter turnout among part of population with lower education levels and that it does not do enough to engage younger voters who are less likely to want more candidates from which to choose.

Both these debates and the studies are ongoing. While the disparities associated with race class voting may level off, they are still a source of doubt among skeptics.