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McLean County League To Study Ranked Choice Voting

Color coded map of the U.S. showing a variety of levels of ranked choice voting options by state.
FairVoteIllinois website
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This map shows various levels of ranked choice voting across the country.

The League of Women Voters of McLean County will likely launch a study later this year into the benefits and drawbacks of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for elections.

Educational Program Committee Chair Laurie Bergner says on the face of it, ranked choice voting appears to be a good idea to promote voter engagement and voter turnout because, in her words, “This helps every vote count.”

During an online Zoom event Wednesday hosted by the McLean County League, Jim Parr from the nonpartisan, nonprofit group FairVoteIllinois said ranked choice voting offers the ability to rank candidates on a ballot in order of preference instead of simply choosing one. Currently in Illinois, we have a system where candidates are elected by a plurality of votes rather than majority rule when the candidate gets 50% + 1 to be elected.

Parr and others argue ranked choice voting is more democratic because when a person’s top choice doesn’t have enough votes for a majority, their second choice vote counts. If second choice doesn’t have enough overall support, then a voter’s third choice on the ranked ballot would count towards achieving a winner with a majority, not a plurality of the vote. FairVoteIllinois uses https://youtu.be/a8p69jKtDIY">this short video to explain the approach:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8p69jKtDIY

According to Parr, voters who have used the process in other states like that they can rank as many candidates as they want, without fear that ranking others will hurt the chances of their favorite candidate. 

League member Bergner likes that a voter can continue to have influence, even when their not-so-popular choice doesn’t rise to the top.

“You don’t just lose your vote because you voted for the person who didn’t get it (majority of votes). You still get some say,” she points out.

League member Diana Christy says elections could wind up with a majority of voters reaching a consensus of sorts.

“A definition of consensus can be someone who wins that I can live with and that I’ve been heard, and so if you think about it in that way, it’s different than ‘I won or lost.’”

Democrats in both the Illinois House and Senate have introduced RCV bills in hopes of providing voters with more choices and boosting voter turnout. In Illinois, home rule communities, such as Bloomington and Normal, can enact their own version of ranked choice voting for local elections. 

Chart listing candidates and percentages along with rankings of candidates for a sample ranked choice voting ballot result
Credit FairVoteIllinois website
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Example of how threshold voting results would be tablulated for ranked choice voting  involving candidates for at-large elections.

In races with multiple winners, such as at-large municipal elections, candidates who receive a certain share of votes will be elected; this share of votes is called the threshold. The threshold is the smallest number which guarantees that no more candidates can reach the threshold than the number of seats to be filled.

Once the threshold is reached, excess votes go to the next candidate and the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Their ballots’ votes for the second, most-preferred candidate will receive those votes.

Zoom participant Faith Russell thinks that level of explanation could sink chances for moving to ranked choice elections in Illinois. Even though she thinks the approach could increase voter engagement and translate into higher participation, Russell says an easy-to-understand pitch is needed.

No One Fix To Improve Elections

League member Janine Toth thinks there is momentum for a number of reforms because extreme factions of both parties and partisanship without compromise has dampened voter enthusiasm for, in some cases, voting for the lesser of two evils. Toth believes there are a variety of approaches that could increase voter engagement.

“That could come by increasing access to the polls. That could come by increasing access to candidates and education. It can come also in how we make our choices.”

Democrats in both the Illinois House and Senate have introduced bills (HB2416 and SB1785) that would bring RCV to the elections of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller, and treasurer, as well as members of the General Assembly. Parr and others admit there’s a way to go to change a long-entrenched system.

Parr of FairVote says another powerful plus to the approach (also referred to as instant runoff elections) is that it tends to result in more civil campaigns. Parr argues candidates tend to be on better behavior because they can’t afford to upset any voters casting ballots.

“The candidate may want support not only from people who would pick him as their first choice, but also from people who would choose him as second choice, so he doesn’t want to anger those by maligning their candidate.”

Abigail Nichols from the League of Women Voters of Chicago was co-chair of a study committee in Washington, D.C., that resulted in that local league recommending a switch to RCV for municipal elections. She highlighted a 2020 study by Eamon McGinn of the University of Technology Sydney which found that in debates for ranked choice voting races, civility was improved with candidates substituting negative or neutral words with positive words.

The latest dialogue has sparked enthusiasm for a McLean County League committee to study and make final recommendation for a future position on ranked choice elections. 

The idea is gaining momentum across the country. So far, 30 ranked choice bills have been introduced in state legislatures. The Biden administration’s proposed election reform bill, The For the People Act (HR1), includes two pro-RCV provisions: one that requires all new voting equipment purchased with federal dollars to be compatible with RCV elections and one to create a Government Accountability Office study about RCV.

The bill has passed the House. The Senate Rules Committee is set to hold a hearing on the bill on March 24.

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