DC Should Institute Choice Voting – The GW Hatchet


Amid national conversations about how to shore up American democracy, a smaller, less pointed way to make America’s elections more democratic is emerging. took into consideration by the DC Council this year: priority vote. As DC races are often decided by narrow pluralities, this new voting method would make elections more democratic by bringing more votes into the fold – this is why the DC Council should pass this legislation.

Right now, electoral candidates win elections in the district by garnering a plurality of votes cast – as is the case with the overwhelming majority of elections at all levels in the United States. This works well in an election where there are only two main candidates, but in a predominantly one-party city like DC where Democratic candidates typically win by an overwhelming majority, this system rules out any real electoral competition that could arise. Candidates should not have free access to victory, and meaningful competition at the ballot box is healthy for democracy and encourages more faithful representation of voters. The DC government must move away from this system and adopt a ranked choice format in its place.

Ranked vote – often abbreviated like RCV, and sometimes called instant draw vote – obliges voters to list a certain number of candidates in order of preference, instead of choosing just one. When all the votes are cast, the people’s first choices are counted. If a candidate is ranked number one by an absolute majority of voters – as in 50% plus one – then that candidate wins straight away.

But if no candidate obtains an absolute majority, then the candidate with the fewest people ranked first is eliminated. Election officers – or, more likely, a computer program – then take the pool of voters who voted for that candidate and disperse their second choices among the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until a candidate obtains a majority of the votes.

In the abstract, there are incredible advantages to asking voters to rank candidates. In general election races that include more candidates than a single Democrat and a Republican – like DC’s last mayoral race, which included Democratic incumbent Muriel Bowser and two left-wing challengers – this can give non-traditional candidates a better shot to be elected. Even if the minor candidates do not win the elections, the major candidates will at least have to appeal to the base of support of the minor candidates in the hope of being the second choice of these voters. In theory, this means that a ranked voting system is more likely to produce a winner that is acceptable to more people than the current system because it takes into account a wider range of people’s preferences. Essentially, even if a voter’s first choice doesn’t win, there’s at least a good chance their second-preferred candidate will get the green light.

To make a brief trip to the heart of the weeds, the preferential vote can make it more likely that the election is won by the candidate who would beat all other candidates in a head-to-head race – also known as the Condorcet winner.

The current method of conducting elections – where voters choose a candidate and whoever gets the most votes wins, called first past the post – is certainly simpler, but it has major drawbacks. In a race with many candidates, which often occurs in primaries, one candidate could get a few more votes than the runner-up and win, even if an overwhelming majority of voters did not vote for that candidate.

A recent election for the DC Council in Ward 2 – which includes Foggy Bottom – is a perfect concrete example of this flaw. The special election to replace scandal-prone former Ward 2 council member Jack Evans fielded seven candidates. Brooke pinto won at 43 percent, which is a healthy margin, but even so, a strong majority of voters voted for someone other than the candidate who won. It is undemocratic.

This could have been avoided if the special election had included a preferential vote. Pinto could have won all the same – given that her gap to the finalist was around 20 points, the electorate doesn’t seem to hate her, and she might well have won once everyone’s list of picks is counted. . Her margin of victory suggests that many Ward 2 voters likely would have ranked her as their second or third choice, if not their first. Even if the result is the same, the preferential vote would ensure that it is the most faithful representation of the wishes of the electorate.

At the moment there is legislation before the DC council that would enact choice voting for the 2024 general election in the district. Bill’s chief architect, Cristina Henderson, a member of the At-Large Council, is an independent who has successfully completed a narrow plurality prevails over a vast field of candidates. To illustrate how drastic it is: 85% of voters chose a candidate other than Henderson, and she still won. His bill is designed to put an end to the kind of narrow wins that leave vast majorities of voters without the representation they voted for.

The last 14 months of US politics have been dominated by discussions of how to make elections fairer and more legitimate in the eyes of voters. Passing this bill and passing a preferential vote would be a small step towards making the election in Washington more democratic.

Andrew Sugrue, a senior specializing in political communication and political science, is the opinion writer.


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