Ranked Choice Voting, Voting Splitting and the Impact on Third Party Candidates

Florida 2000 Presidential Election Results


A voting system is supposed to allow voters to choose their elected officials, not choose for them. But which election system is used can actually have a significant impact on who gets elected and who doesn’t. The plurality voting system currently used in most U.S. elections is subject to what’s known as “vote splitting” and the “spoiler effect”. This phenomenon has had unfortunate consequences for candidates and voters in a number of specific elections, and it also means that in U.S. elections in general third-party candidates are at a disadvantage. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) on the other hand empowers multiple candidates to run even if they overlap on some issues, because they can get high rankings from the same voters without worrying about splitting the vote.

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How Ranked Choice Voting Increases Campaign Civility

By changing the math of how votes are counted, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) changes the calculations that candidates make when deciding how to campaign. Plurality voting is a zero sum game where each candidate either gets your vote or doesn’t; one candidate’s loss is their opponent’s gain so there is strong incentive for each candidate to attack the other. In terms of election outcomes it doesn’t matter if a candidate gets a vote because voters like them, or if they get it because voters hate their opponent.

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Ranked Choice Voting and Voter Participation

Note: This post is a part of an ongoing series of posts about Ranked Choice Voting.  You can find other posts in the series here, with more posts to come.

Voter participation in the U.S. is hard to pin down. It can be measured as percentage of registered voters, eligible voters, those of voting age, or of the population as a whole. Participation is higher in presidential elections with new candidates then when one is up for re-election, with even lower turnout for midterm elections, primaries, and municipal races. And voting rates vary widely from state to state, district to district, and demographic to demographic. Increasing the benefits of voting, and or decreasing the obstacles in order to improve voter turnout is not a straightforward proposition with a one size fits all solution.

Still, it’s easy to see why in recent years Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is appealing to many who are looking for ways increase voter turnout. In certain types of elections RCV can eliminate the need for primaries so people only need to make the effort to vote once. Ranking also offers people more choices and doesn’t alienate those who don’t want a major party candidate and it gives each vote more meaning since all votes will affect a candidate’s outcome. RCV also encourages civility during the campaign as each candidate can still benefit from being the number two choice of their opponent’s supporters.

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