League of Women Voters hopes to educate McLean County about Ranked Choice Voting
Those who are frustrated with the state of American democracy have a lengthy wish list of systemic changes they think would help – things like campaign finance reform or redistricting reform.
Another idea is starting to take hold too – changing how we actually vote. It’s called Ranked Choice Voting, aka instant-runoff voting, and it’s already being used in 51 American jurisdictions. Evanston will become the first Illinois city to replace its winner-take-all voting system with Ranked Choice Voting, starting in 2025.
To help people here understand how it works, the League of Women Voters of McLean County will host a community information event at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Illinois State University’s Alumni Center. It’s an in-person event, though it will be available online.
“For right now, the idea is to learn more about Ranked Choice Voting, because there’s a lot of misinformation,” said League president Diana Hauman. “And for somebody like me, I don’t know enough about Ranked Choice Voting to say I’d really get behind it. So, our meeting on Oct. 17 is our first step in educating the public in and around Bloomington-Normal concerning Ranked Choice Voting. And at some point, we may decide to take action,” such as a formal position of support.
Here's how it works: Voters rank candidates in order of preference. All first choices are tallied and if a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election. If there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an “instant runoff.” The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as their top choice will have their next choice counted. This process continues until there’s a majority winner or a candidate won with more than half of the vote.
There are pros and cons. League member Eric Hansen said one of the benefits of Ranked Choice Voting is that it could lead to less negative campaigning, like candidate attack ads.
"Candidates will now have to appeal to all voters. They’re not looking toward a specific sect,” Hansen said. “And what this does is really facilitates a less polarizing campaign, which I think every single voter I know wants to see a little bit more of.”
It could also save taxpayer money, he said, because election authorities might not have to run as many primary elections. (Hansen said his work on Ranked Choice Voting is in his capacity as a self-described “policy nerd,” not as a Democratic member of the McLean County Board. He was appointed to the board last month.)
“And it promotes reflective representation,” Hansen said. “Oftentimes, voters – while they may fall into different camps of preferred candidates – they may agree that this other candidate would probably be their second choice. And all in all, that person might be more reflective of what these voters would prefer.”
One of the downsides to Ranked Choice Voting, Hauman said, is a perception that it’s too confusing for voters to understand. Hansen noted that advocates for the idea are getting better at explaining it, including the group FairVote Illinois that’s speaking at the Oct. 17 event.
Several Republican-led states have banned Ranked Choice Voting, or introduced bills to do so, potentially turning an otherwise wonky issue into a partisan one. In Illinois, state lawmakers have created a Ranked-Choice and Voting Systems Task Force to study the issue and others, with findings and recommendations due by March 1, 2024.
How might Ranked Choice Voting play out in McLean County, which is increasingly purple politically after years of Republican dominance?
“It’s exceptionally important in places where we’re more purple, in that across the country, we’re seeing higher and higher instances of polarization,” Hansen said. “And voters regardless of which affiliation do not care for the fighting in many, many instances. Because candidates (would) now have to appeal to all voters, it can help open up conversations in a very civil, polite, respectful way.”