Daily Herald opinion: Leaders, voters should be exploring how ranked choice voting can work in Illinois

First in a series

According to the elections advocacy website, two states, two counties and 58 cities across the United States have implemented an innovative system of vote counting designed to provide more meaningful results in campaigns featuring three or more candidates.

Illinois should start working toward joining them.

The system, known as ranked choice voting or RCV, can take many forms, and it will require reasonable study and debate to determine the form best suited to Illinois. But essentially, RCV abandons the traditional "choose one" process of determining an election winner, instead giving each voter the opportunity to express varying levels of support for multiple candidates. Thus, if the voter's preferred candidate doesn't win in a first round of tabulations, subsequent rounds may give the candidate a later path to victory or at least produce a winner the voter prefers over other alternatives.

Advocates cite numerous benefits to this approach:

• It gives voters a broader opportunity to express their preferences and thereby ensures the election of candidates with the broadest range of support.

• It can lead to more issues-oriented, less personal election campaigns as candidates realize they may need secondary support from voters they would otherwise discount.

• It minimizes the chances that an outsider or extremist will emerge the winner, because a field of additional candidates more acceptable to a majority of voters split the vote.

• In races where multiple candidates will be elected - as in a municipal or school board race in which two or more seats will be filled from among numerous candidates - proportional ranked-choice tabulations distribute votes among all candidates in a way that is more representative of voters' wishes.

• It reduces the opportunity for claims that the electoral system can be manipulated by one or the other major candidates, encouraging more potential voters to let their voices be heard and increasing faith in our democracy.

• It reduces the chances for minor-party or renegade candidates to disrupt the election of a major-party candidate who otherwise would win a race in a head-to-head contest with a single opponent.

• Indeed, it allows voters to express support for a minor-party candidate without fear that their vote will hurt the chances of a more-prominent candidate they would otherwise support.

Opponents of ranked choice voting cite one dominant objection - that it lessens the chances for an outsider to pull off an upset. That, ironically, is the very reason the system should be considered. Our elections should not be designed to provide a route for rogue candidates to sneak past a field of opponents more consistent with the broad desires of the electorate.

Ranked choice voting is in place and already working well in localities and states across the country. In Alaska just this fall, it catapulted a moderate Democrat with broad appeal, Mary Peltola, past Republican firebrand Sarah Palin in the race for a U.S. House seat. It can be argued that it might have produced a more representative Republican than Donald Trump from the large field of candidates seeking to represent the party for president in 2016, or given secondary candidates more voice and more opportunity against Hillary Clinton that same year or against Joe Biden in 2020.

Perhaps even more to the point, it can produce more representative elected officials in local and regional races from city council to state senate to Congress.

Despite prominent efforts to advance voter equity and access, ranked choice voting has gotten little attention yet in the Illinois General Assembly. If lawmakers are truly interested in those democratic goals, they will elevate discussion of the topic.

And all of us voters should be pressuring them to do so.

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