The first time I watched a video explaining ranked-choice voting, my head hurt.
The second time, it started to make sense.
After a seventh time, I got it. I understand the allure.
Ranked-choice voting is an interesting concept, one that could blow the minds of Kansas voters. Whether we want to do that is the question.
State Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, wants Kansas to take a look. He’s chairman of the House Elections Committee and is running for Secretary of State. He has scheduled an Oct. 27 hearing, and if there are enough lawmakers supportive of pursuing ranked-choice voting, a bill could be taken up in the 2018 legislative session.
Ranked-choice voting asks citizens to make choices – three, maybe more – in races where there are more than two candidates.
If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated – and his voters’ second choices get the votes.
Does someone have a majority now? Good, game over. No majority? Eliminate the new last-place candidate and repeat the process until there’s a majority.
It’s much like the runoff system used by some states. In a runoff, two candidates advance to a second election if no one has a majority the first time around. Ranked choice eliminates the second election.
The idea of “most votes wins” has been in Kansas so long, this kind of change might seem mountainous. The “what ifs” are spectacular.
Let’s say Florida had ranked-choice voting in the 2000 presidential election. As it stands, George W. Bush had 2,912,790 first-place votes to Al Gore’s 2,912,253 – a 537-vote difference.
There were 138,063 votes for other candidates, and not all for the perceived spoiler, Ralph Nader. Would those votes have tipped Florida for Gore and made him president? Or would Bush have had a more comfortable margin with no court cases necessary?
Many ranked-choice voting byproducts are appealing. Candidates can’t play to their bases as much, needing to appeal to many views in an attempt to earn second-place notice.
A Libertarian third-party candidate wouldn’t be a general-election spoiler for a Republican candidate because the Republican would likely get the Libertarian’s second votes. Same with Green Party candidates and Democrats.
Drawbacks? Sure. Some races wouldn’t be finalized on election night without a majority winner, instead waiting for a canvass of votes. Many voters could be confused by the process, at least initially.
Ranked-choice voting isn’t being used statewide anywhere, though Maine will try it next year in federal and primary elections. It’s being used in major cities around the country, mostly for mayoral and council elections.
Even on a fast track for approval, ranked-choice voting likely wouldn’t start in Kansas until 2020. But just imagine what it could do to the 2018 governor’s races if it were in place.
Assume all Republican candidates stay in the race until next August’s primary. With nine on the ballot, a majority winner would be unlikely. Rounds and rounds of elimination might be necessary.
Esau’s statehouse hearings will be revealing. This is not something Kansas has to do. Or needs to do. Or necessarily should do.
In a election system, though, where winners often receive less than half the vote, ranked-choice voting has appeal if you believe the best candidates come from persuading the most citizens.