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Ranked-choice voting will now be used in the 2021 elections for mayor and city council in New York.

Ranked-choice voting backers eye momentum from NYC victory

Ranked-choice voting just made it big in the biggest town for making it — New York City. And supporters of this way of conducting elections hope to use the victory there to spread it, well, everywhere.

With more than 90 percent of the precincts reporting Wednesday morning, almost three-quarters of voters (73.5 percent) endorsed bringing ranked-choice voting to the nation's biggest city. The new system, which allows people to rank as many as five candidates in order of preference, will be used in primary and special elections beginning with the races in 2021 for mayor, city council and several other municipal offices.

Known as RCV and also the instant-runoff system, ranking candidates has become one of the big election-improvement darlings of the democracy reform movement.

Less sweeping measures for improving governance were on ballots in Maine, Kansas and Denver, and all of them succeeded.

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Big Picture

8 places where democracy reform faces the voters on Tuesday

Last year was a really good year for placing democracy reform in the hands of the electorate. This year, not so much.

In the 2018 midterms, ballot proposals adopted in more than a dozen states and cities expanded the use of automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, public financing of campaigns and other democracy reform proposals.

Next week's off-year election will see only a small roster of contests with an expansion of democracy itself on the ballot, and most have relatively narrow scope and limited reach.

But good-government advocates hope a wave of victories creates momentum for a more ambitious roster of proposals to get spots on the ballot alongside the 2020 presidential election.

And while the roster of pro-democracy choices may be limited this Nov. 5, the overall number of direct-democracy opportunities is large. Not since 2007 have so many ballot measures (three dozen) gone before voters in an odd-numbered year, according to Ballotpedia.

Below are the eight items on the ballot next week that good-government advocates are watching most intently — listed alphabetically by where the voting will take place. Four are initiatives in big cities and two are statewide referenda. The others are partisan elections for offices where the future of a reliable and relatable democracy is part of what's in the offing.

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While the DNC has stopped Iowa and Nevada from allowing remote participation in the 2020 caucuses, ranked-choice voting seems likely to survive in Nevada.

Ranked-choice voting faces newly balky path in several states

The prospects for ranked-choice voting are uncertain in a handful of states that had shown momentum as the fall begins and the 2020 campaign shifts into a more intense gear.

Just days ago, the future looked brighter for one of the more revolutionary parts of the democracy reform agenda, which seeks in part to grow consensus-building and shrink polarization in politics: holding elections where voters list all the candidates they can live with in order of preference, with the winner often emerging as a person ranked close to the top on the most number of ballots.

The biggest potential setback since has come in Iowa, where Democrats hoped to couple a debut for ranked-choice voting in presidential elections with the rollout of online participation in the 2020 caucuses.

But last week national party leaders rejected the proposals from Iowa and Nevada to allow remote participation, concluding that concerns the fledgling systems could be hacked outweighed the desire to make it easier for people to participate.

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Voting
True

San Francisco uses ranked-choice voting for its elections. According to Daley and Richie, RCV encourages a more civil race and gives candidates incentives to reach beyond their own base.

Ranked-choice voting has momentum and a track record of success

Daley is a senior fellow at FairVote, a nonpartisan electoral reform organization. Richie is FairVote's president and CEO.

Kansas Democrats wanted to increase participation in their May 2020 presidential contest and make the balloting fairer for everyone. The state's 2016 caucus seemed to go on forever: There were hours upon hours of speeches, followed by the laborious process of dividing into groups for each candidate and being counted one by one. Only then could participants begin often hours-long drives home.

Maine voters sought to protect their state's longstanding tradition of independent candidates and vigorous third parties, while also ensuring that winning candidates had genuine majority support. Nine of the state's last 11 governors, including Democrats, Republicans and independents, and dating back to the 1970s, won with a mere plurality. They wanted to retain all their choices, but also elect the winner with the widest backing.

Eastpointe, Mich., meanwhile, wanted to ensure that black voters elected their fair share of city government seats. The city needed to resolve a Voting Rights Act complaint filed by the Department of Justice that alleged Eastpointe's practice of electing local offices through citywide elections prevented black people – almost one-third of the population -- from winning. No black candidates had been elected to the city council or school board there prior to the DOJ complaint.

New York, the nation's largest city, also had a problem with representative elections. Since 2009, according to Common Cause, two-thirds of all primaries with more than two candidates were won by a candidate with less than 50 percent support. The city's new public advocate captured the office with just a third.

They all hit on the same solution: ranked-choice voting. Now everyone seems to be taking notice. Indeed, at least some voters in at least 25 states are now slated to cast RCV ballots in upcoming elections and primaries.

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