Constable: Elections with ranked choice voting? I'd drink to that

  • As a way to illustrate how ranked choice voting works, the League of Women Voters of Roselle-Bloomingdale is hosting a fundraiser Monday at Pollyanna Brewing Co. in Roselle in which voters will rank four beers.

    As a way to illustrate how ranked choice voting works, the League of Women Voters of Roselle-Bloomingdale is hosting a fundraiser Monday at Pollyanna Brewing Co. in Roselle in which voters will rank four beers. Courtesy of Pollyanna Brewing Co.

  • Ranked choice voting gives everyone a voice, says Andrew Szilva, president of FairVote Illinois.

    Ranked choice voting gives everyone a voice, says Andrew Szilva, president of FairVote Illinois. Courtesy of FairVote Illinois

  • In 2008, presidential candidates and U.S. Sens. Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, and John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, both expressed support for ranked choice voting.

    In 2008, presidential candidates and U.S. Sens. Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, and John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, both expressed support for ranked choice voting. Associated Press

  • Courtesy of FairVote Illinois

 
 
Updated 9/16/2021 8:48 AM

The idea of ranked choice voting has been around so long that my first attempt to explain it in a column used the example of someone walking into his local Blockbuster store, only to discover that someone else had rented the video he wanted to pop into his VCR.

The League of Women Voters of Roselle-Bloomingdale offered a timeless illustration of ranked choice voting at this summer's Taste of Roselle by letting voters fill out ballots to determine the favorite cookie from a host of options.

 

"I believe Oreos won," says Roberta Borrino, co-president of the group, which is adding a new twist to its ranked choice voting education efforts next week by using alcohol.

The "Rank Your Beer!" fundraiser from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday will take place in the outdoor beer garden at Pollyanna Brewing Co., 245 E. Main St., Roselle. A ticket costs $25 and includes one flight of four different beers and appetizers. For details, visit lwvrb.org.

Just as ranked choice voting works with voters for political candidates, each beer voter will rank the choices of Fruhauf (an Octoberfest lager), Eleanor (a porter), In The Cards (a hazy pale ale) and Blueberry Allure (a Berliner Weisse). If none of the options garners more than 50% of the vote, the beer with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and the second-place votes on those ballots are counted. If that doesn't produce a majority winner, then the next least-popular candidate is eliminated and the second-place votes on those ballots are counted.

"I think a lot of people, once they realize what it is, it's a no-brainer," says Andrew Szilva, president of FairVote Illinois, which formed in 2020 to advocate for ranked choice voting for candidates for public office.

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Imagine George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler running in a primary race for one open school board seat. Washington gets 25% of the vote, Lincoln gets 25%, Roosevelt gets 24%, and Hitler, hated by 74% of voters, wins the election with 26% of the votes.

Under ranked choice voting, Roosevelt's last-place finish would drop her from the running and allow the system to count the second choices on those ballots. If those votes were equally split between Lincoln and Washington, they'd each have 37% of the vote, dropping Hitler to last place among the remaining candidates. The system would then eliminate Hitler and use the second choices on those ballots, which would give either Lincoln or Washington the win and the support of the majority of voters.

Since World War II, seven presidents have been elected with less than 50% of the popular vote: Donald Trump (46%) in 2016, George W. Bush (47.9%) in 2000, Bill Clinton (43%) in 1991, and (49.2%) in 1996, Richard Nixon (43.4%) in 1968, John Kennedy (49.7) in 1960, and Harry Truman (49.4%) in 1948.

"People are saying, 'Wait. There has to be a better solution,'" says Szilva.

If ranking had been used in all those presidential races, the second-place votes on ballots for losing candidates such as Ralph Nader, Gary Johnson, Ross Perot, George Wallace or Strom Thurmond could have changed the election, and at least ensured that the president captured a majority of the votes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's nothing complicated about ranked choice voting, which sometimes is called "instant runoff." You pick whom you want to win as your first choice, then rank the rest of the candidates in order of your preference.

Maine and Alaska use ranked choice voting for statewide and presidential elections. Wyoming, Kansas and Nevada used it in the 2020 presidential Democratic primaries. Utah, California, Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Vermont, Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, New York and Springfield, Illinois, use it to decide some local elections.

In the Chicago mayoral race that had 14 candidates, Lori Lightfoot got 17.5% of the vote, Toni Preckwinkle got 16%, and Bill Daley got 14.8%, while the majority (51.7%) chose other candidates. Only the top two were involved in the runoff election, which cost additional money, and the outcome might have changed with ranked choice voting.

A poll after the New York mayoral race showed that 77% of voters liked ranked choice voting, 86% ranked more than one candidate, and 95% (regardless of party, age, race, gender or other factors) thought the process was easy, Szilva says. There are no "wasted votes," and early voters whose top pick then drops out of the race still have a say. In 2002, Arizona Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain backed ranked choice voting, as did young Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama, who introduced a bill in the Illinois legislature, which is still pondering the issue.

With only four choices, Monday's beer voting could produce a winner on the first count. That wouldn't illustrate the effectiveness of ranked choice voting the way it would if there were 17 beers on the ballot. But no one wants that sort of election hangover.

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