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It's time for ranked-choice voting

  • Author: Sharman Haley
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 13, 2016
  • Published November 13, 2016

A state of Alaska ballot for the Nov. 8, 2016 general election, photographed during early voting at Division II headquarters on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

What a disgrace this election cycle has been. Most people did not want either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. In the Alaska primary caucuses, 67 percent of Republican voters preferred Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, surgeon Ben Carson or Ohio Gov. John Kasich; 82 percent of Democratic voters preferred Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Twelve percent of Alaskans voted for other parties in the presidential election, including Libertarian, Constitutional and Green. And then there are the Alaskans who are so disgusted they did not vote at all. The same is true across the country: the president-elect does not represent the aspirations of the majority of Americans.

Our democracy would be much more authentic if we could vote our true conscience, without feeling like our votes are wasted, or worse, counterproductive. Our political discourse would be richer if we had a robust multicandidate system. We would all feel more buy-in to the political system and outcomes if we felt our voices were heard, our preferences counted, and the victor had solid majority support.

Ranked-choice voting will do this. The citizens of Maine are leading the way. On Nov. 8 they voted for a change in the state electoral process that allows voters to indicate their first, second and third choices in multicandidate races, including a write-in candidate.

It is also called instant-runoff voting: when the ballots are tallied, first-choice votes are counted first. If no one wins a clear majority, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes from the people that voted for the eliminated candidate are added to the other first-choice votes until a majority for one candidate is reached.

Former Maine Sen. Dick Woodbury argues this kind of system eliminates the "spoiler" effect in multicandidate elections and that "campaigns will be more civil and respectful, as candidates avoid alienating their opponents' supporters. Rather than appealing to loyal supporters alone, a winning candidate needs to appeal to a genuine majority of all voters, including those whose first choice may be somebody else."

The League of Women Voters of Maine endorsed ranked-choice voting and listed five advantages of the system, including: "(it) encourages candidates to run with new ideas and dissenting opinions."

Maine state Rep. Diane Russell observed, "Maine has a strong independent streak, something we're fiercely proud of. As it stands, our current election system is not designed to account for multiple candidates, like we often have. The current system is outdated for a world of choice. Every salad bar comes with multiple dressing options; why shouldn't every election come with multiple candidates?"

The same could be said for Alaska. Let's be the second state to adopt ranked-choice voting.

Sharman Haley works with We the People Alaska, a statewide, grass-roots, pro-democracy movement advocating for electoral reform and the end of corporate personhood. For more information see www.wethepeoplealaska.org.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email to commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com

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