Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Why ranked-choice voting should be a part of the coronavirus elections fix

Nevada 2020 early voting primary ballot

When Nevada held its primary in February, voters were allowed to cast ballots early and rank their preferred candidates.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Richie is president and Daley a senior fellow at FairVote, a nonpartisan electoral reform group that promotes ranked-choice voting. This month Daley published "Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy" (Liveright).

So much has changed in American life, and so quickly, that it's hard to believe it's been just four weeks since former Vice President Joe Biden shocked Sen. Bernie Sanders with a rout on Super Tuesday.

A race that had been unsettled for months, seemingly bound for a brokered convention, shifted decisively in Biden's direction over the course of just 72 hours. Several competitors exited the race and offered their endorsements, strong performances across the South gave him a large delegate lead and then Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren gave up as well.

Imagine for a moment that it hadn't worked out that way. Imagine Tom Steyer got closer to Biden in South Carolina, and Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar pressed on. Suppose Bloomberg's early momentum continued and it was only Warren who dropped out, prompting progressives to consolidate behind Sanders against a still-fractured field.


The consequences would have been far-reaching. The decisions to delay primaries across the Northeast, Midwest and South would have become so much more important — and the debate over postponing them very different. Imagine the intraparty fireworks after Sanders backers accused the Democratic establishment of postponing the contest to slow his path. Then imagine a brokered convention in July, at a time of continued social isolation because of the pandemic.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

This is to say: It's a fluke the Democratic nomination appears as settled as it does now. Our electoral system may have dodged incomprehensible chaos — and only by days.

In the past weeks we've launched an urgent conversation about voting during the coronavirus outbreak. The nation may not return to normal before summer, perhaps not even then. Many are suggesting we expand vote-by-mail, make it easier to register online and plan for how we allow everyone a vote in November in a full and free election.

We need to get this crucial debate right. That means we need a solution that would have also worked if the coronavirus spread began earlier, or struck while the Democratic contests was still splintered among several candidates, none approaching the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

The solution is actually in front of us: Expand early voting by mail as well as ranked-choice voting. Five Democratic contests this year — in Nevada last month and Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii and Kansas later this spring — allowed voters who cast ballots early to rank their favorite candidates in order of preference.

These states had previously used time-consuming, in-person caucuses that short-changed turnout. By expanding early voting and RCV, the state parties created the best of both worlds. Voters didn't have to spend hours on one night to make their voices heard, a challenge for many with evening jobs or child care responsibilities.

And by allowing these early voters to indicate all their acceptable choices, the rules made their voices as powerful as those who attended a caucus and could realign if their first choice fell short of earning delegates. This was a big hit in Nevada, where more than two-thirds of voters voted early and the system was easy to understand.

We don't need to imagine the benefits — especially now that, as of this writing, no fewer than 10 states with a combined 820 pledged delegates have delayed primaries, until June in all but a couple of places: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Marland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

In Wyoming, where early voting with RCV has been underway, officials have seamlessly shifted the entire caucus to the mail — by promising collection centers for those who prefer to drop off their envelopes. Results will be delayed to allow people more time to request and return ballots, but nothing else needs to be rescheduled. Every vote that has already been cast will count. The same is true in Alaska, Hawaii and Kansas. While other states scramble under unpredictable circumstances, those election officials had already selected a plan that works during the Covid-19 outbreak.

But voting early or by mail is not enough. Just this month, well over 2 million voted early for a presidential candidate who got out of the race before that vote was counted. With RCV, those votes would move to the voters' next choices and they wouldn't be punished for a decision beyond their control. RCV would have given them a backup — and a voice.

Just as importantly, this emergency struck at a time when both parties' nominations appeared largely settled. The next could arrive in the middle of primary season or during a hotly divisive general election campaign.

If there were still half a dozen active Democratic candidates with nearly two dozen contests remaining, RCV plus early voting would allow the contests to continue and every voice to get fully heard.

Remember "electability," the issue over which Democrats obsessed endlessly? RCV would have enabled all voters to truly decide the issue. Biden may well be the final decision for the Democrats. But it was inarguably rushed, powered by a combination of fear that Sanders might be too risky and recognition a single-choice system would split the vote among all his rivals if they didn't drop out. A well-functioning system shouldn't come down to the luck of timing.

The coronavirus assures a lot is going to change — in American life and in our elections. The reforms we make now need to be thoughtful. And they need to be up to the task of improving elections that are likely to continue to be deeply polarized and feature big fields of candidates. Yes, we're going to need a fix for 2020. Let's make sure it improves the health of our elections for many more years to come.

Read More

Trump and Biden at the debate

Our political dysfunction was on display during the debate in the simple fact of the binary choice on stage: Trump vs Biden.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The debate, the political duopoly and the future of American democracy

Johnson is the executive director of the Election Reformers Network, a national nonpartisan organization advancing common-sense reforms to protect elections from polarization.

The talk is all about President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, whether he’ll be replaced at the top of the ticket and what it all means for the very concerning likelihood of another Trump presidency. These are critical questions.

But Donald Trump is also a symptom of broader dysfunction in our political system. That dysfunction has two key sources: a toxic polarization that elevates cultural warfare over policymaking, and a set of rules that protects the major parties from competition and allows them too much control over elections. These rules entrench the major-party duopoly and preclude the emergence of any alternative political leadership, giving polarization in this country its increasingly existential character.

Keep ReadingShow less
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Voters should be able to take the measure of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., since he is poised to win millions of votes in November.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

Kennedy should have been in the debate – and states need ranked voting

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

CNN’s presidential debate coincided with a fresh batch of swing-state snapshots that make one thing perfectly clear: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. may be a longshot to be our 47th president and faces his own controversies, yet the 10 percent he’s often achieving in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and other battlegrounds could easily tilt the presidency.

Why did CNN keep him out with impossible-to-meet requirements? The performances, mistruths and misstatements by Joe Biden and Donald Trump would have shocked Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, who managed to debate seven times without any discussion of golf handicaps — a subject better fit for a “Grumpy Old Men” outtake than one of the year’s two scheduled debates.

Keep ReadingShow less
I Voted stickers

Veterans for All Voters advocates for election reforms that enable more people to participate in primaries.

BackyardProduction/Getty Images

Veterans are working to make democracy more representative

Proctor, a Navy veteran, is a volunteer with Veterans for All Voters.

Imagine this: A general election with no negative campaigning and four or five viable candidates (regardless of party affiliation) competing based on their own personal ideas and actions — not simply their level of obstruction or how well they demonize their opponents. In this reformed election process, the candidate with the best ideas and the broadest appeal will win. The result: The exhausted majority will finally be well-represented again.

Keep ReadingShow less
Person voting at a dropbox in Washington, D.C.

A bill moving through Congress would only allow U.S. citizens to vote in D.C. municipal eletions.

Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

The battle over noncitizen voting in America's capital

Rogers is the “data wrangler” at BillTrack50. He previously worked on policy in several government departments.

Should you be allowed to vote if you aren’t an American citizen? Or according to the adage ‘No taxation without representation’, if you pay taxes should you get to choose the representatives who help spend those tax dollars? Those questions are at the heart of the debate over a bill to restrict voting to U.S. citizens.

Keep ReadingShow less
people walking through a polling place

Election workers monitor a little-used polling place in Sandy Springs, Ga., during the state's 2022 primary.

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What November election? Half of the U.S. House is already decided.

Troiano is the executive director ofUnite America, a philanthropic venture fund that invests in nonpartisan election reform to foster a more representative and functional government. He’s also the author of “The Primary Solution.”

Last month, Americans were treated to an embarrassing spectacle: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) tradingpersonal insults related to “fake eyelashes” and a “bleach blonde bad built butch body” during a late-night committee hearing. Some likened it to Bravo’s “Real Housewives” reality TV series, and wondered how it was possible that elected officials could act that way and still be elected to Congress by the voters.

The truth is, the vast majority of us don’t actually elect our House members — not even close. Less than 10 percent of voters in Crockett’s district participated in her 2024 Democratic primary, which all but guaranteed her re-election in the safe blue district. Greene ran unopposed in her GOP primary — meaning she was re-elected without needing to win a single vote. The nearly 600,000 voters in her overwhelmingly red district were denied any meaningful choice. Both contests were decided well before most voters participate in the general election.

Keep ReadingShow less