Improvement One for the USA: Ranked Choice Voting

A while back I posted a list of ten possible improvements, and there was a large amount of requests to take them on one at a time. So I will be doing that in a series here, including any discussions up to now and hopefully promoting more discussions as we focus on each one.

To begin, let’s look at Ranked Choice Voting

The Concept:

Currently we elect candidates for office with a whomever gets a plurality of votes, or in simpler terms, whoever gets more than any other candidate. But there are issues with this approach:

  1. Voters are usually forced to choose to vote for the most popular candidates or have little impact and risk a person winning they truly dislike.
  2. Candidates can win with a very small base of support, so long as it is more than any other candidate.
  3. It is very difficult for third parties to gain advancement

To fix up these issues, Ranked Choice Voting is suggested, where you indicate your order of preference of the possible candidates. It would work as follows:

You have five candidates, A, B, C, D, and E.
A and B are the most popular candidates from the major parties.
However, you are now free to rank your choices of all the candidates, so let’s say you vote for C first, then E, then B, then D and finally A.

If any candidate gets 50% of the vote, they win. If not, the candidate receiving the lowest amount drops out and the 2nd choice of those voters is used and added to that candidate. This goes on until there is a majority candidate (over 50%)

The Practice:

The election results come in, and they are as follows:
A has 26% of the vote
B has 31% of the vote
C has 15% of the vote
D has 13% of the vote
E has 14% of the vote

Now normally B would win with a plurality, but since we’ve changed the rules to needing a majority, D gets dropped and all of D‘s support go to the second choice for D. Let’s say that’s 6% to A and 7% to C. The new rankings are as follows:
A has 32% of the vote
B has 31% of the vote
C has 21% of the vote
E has 14% of the vote

Now normally A would win with a plurality, but again, no one is at 50%, so we drop the lowest, with all 14% of E‘s having chosen C as their 2nd choice. The new rankings are thus:
A has 32% of the vote
B has 31% of the vote
C has 35% of the vote

Now C would win a plurality! But no one has a clear majority, so B gets dropped and here’s where things get complicated (see below). For now, let’s say only the remaining candidates count, and all B‘s voters preferred C over A. Thus:
A has 32% of the vote
C has 66% of the vote

C wins the election!

The Problems Explored: Who gets the support and when?

As noted above, a question that needs answering is at what point are preferences counted? If one party was dropped but later turns out to be the 2nd most preferred for a large party that dropped, should that party get the votes or should only the currently remaining parties divide the votes based on ranking? There are arguments to be made for both, but it does present a mathematical issue. Let’s say that all of B‘s supporters choose E as their 2nd choice. That would mean E actually has 14% primary support and 31% secondary support, which would put it over C‘s then-35%! So let’s do process differently.

Let’s say instead you count first the primary support, and then you add half of the secondary support to each candidate. For our scenario:
The second choice for A voters was 50% D and 50% C
The second choice for B voters was 70% E and 30% C
The second choice for C voters was 40% E, 30% B, 20% D and 10% A
The second choice for D voters was 55% C and 45% A
The second choice for E was 70% C and 30% B

Using this math, we get the following rankings:
A has 26% + (((0.10*15)+(0.45*13)))/2, or 29.68%
B has 31% + (((0.30*15)+(0.30*14))/2), or 35.35%
C has 15% + (((0.50*26)+(0.30*31)+(0.55*13)+(0.70*14))/2), or 34.63%
D has 13% + (((0.50*26)+(0.20*15))/2), or 21%
E has 14% + (((0.70*31)+(0.40*15))/2), or 27.85%

Still no one has over 50%, so we take the third choice and we add 1/3 to each candidate:
The third choice for A voters was 50% C and 50% D
The third choice for B voters was 70% C and 30% E
The third choice for C voters was 40% B, 30% E, 20% D and 10% A
The third choice for D voters was 45% C and 55% A
The third choice for E voters was 30% B and 70% C

Using this math, we get:
A with 32.56%
B with 38.75%
C with 51.41%
D with 26.33%
E with 32.45%

Which does make a difference only for the ones who didn’t win, since B remains in second place and E is remarkedly close to A.

So this problem seems not to be too large, only for statistical purposes on total support (or in a parliamentary system) would this be needed. C still wins.

The Problems Explored: That’s too complicated!

One of the big issues with Ranked Choice is how complex it is to calculate and how complex it is to vote. Asking for a second choice is fine; most people have that. Ranking all of them is a bit much for most people, who may not really have an opinion on the others. I may drive down voter participation.

So to model it out, let’s just pick two, a first and second choice. If by the first there is no clear winner, the second choice amounts are added to each and we see if there is a clear 50% winner there. We start with the party with the most votes first, because they did win the most primary votes and should therefore take precedence (this argument could be seen as another problem, but I think we would all agree that the first choice is more “valuable” than the second).

In review, this means that:
A has 26% of the vote
B has 31% of the vote
C has 15% of the vote
D has 13% of the vote
E has 14% of the vote

And
B has 31% of the vote + 4.5% from C and 4.2% from E for a total of 39.7%
A has 26% of the vote + 5.85% from D and 1.5% from C for a total of 33.35%
C has 15% of the voter + 13% from A, 9.3% from B, 7.15% from D and 9.8% from E for a total of 54.25%

And we have a winner! C it is again (had E or D gotten more votes than C over 50%, then you could argue they should win, but again the primacy of the first choice should be determinative).

The Problems Explored: Not my choice!

If your third choice was selected, you may not actually feel much in support of the government, despite you having selected that as an option. As such, I do not think it is a good idea to ask for a third choice because the entire point is to give people a better feeling of support for their government and that their choices matter.

TLDR:

Ranked Choice voting seems like a good option to both give people a better sense that their vote matters and that they can vote for whom they support even if afraid someone else will win.
It encourages a departure from a two party model and it will produce a winner with the most direct and secondary support, in each model.
The best model IMO is two choices with a single addition of the secondary choices. If that fails to get anyone over 50%, a revote or runoff should be held.

What do you think? Any other problems you can think of? How would you get this implemented?

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