With ranked choice voting a voter can rank the candidates for an office in order of preference: my first choice candidate, my second choice candidate, my third choice candidate, and so on. If a candidate gets a majority (more than half) of the first choice votes, that candidate wins.
But if no candidate gets a majority of the first choice votes, the other rankings are factored in to determine the winner. The preferred method is to eliminate the candidate who received the fewest first choice votes and transfer that candidate’s votes to each voter’s next choice. The process is repeated until someone gets a majority.
Our current voting system can create a “spoiler” dilemma for candidates and voters if there are more than two candidates running. Voter support for one candidate can “take away” votes from another candidate, allowing a third candidate to win with less than a majority.
With ranked choice voting, voters are no longer trapped by the “spoiler” dilemma. Because no candidate can win with less than a majority, you can vote for who you regard as the best candidate and use another candidate as a back-up vote. This allows voters to give serious consideration to independent and third party candidates, not just well-funded front-runners. Money has less influence on the election when voters are given real options to choose from.
Ranked choice voting is explicitly permitted by the Oregon Constitution in Article II, Section 16:
“Provision may be made by law for the voter’s direct or indirect expression of his [sic] first, second or additional choices among the candidates for any office. For an office which is filled by the election of one person it may be required by law that the person elected shall be the final choice of a majority of the electors voting for candidates for that office.”
This section was added to the constitution in 1908 by a citizen initiative of the early progressive movement. They fought to empower citizens against the control of the state legislature by the “monied interests” of the time, principally banks and railroads. However, the movement did not have the political muscle to pass state legislation to implement ranked choice voting.
Now, a hundred years later, the influence of money on elections and legislators is again in the spotlight. We have a chance to fulfill the promise of these early reformers by finally enacting ranked choice voting in Oregon!
To learn about the campaign to bring ranked choice voting to Benton County, Oregon, click here.