What keeps many voters from voting for third-party candidates? One of the most common reasons I hear is that a vote for a third-party candidate will be "wasted" because only the Democratic or Republican candidates have a legitimate chance to win.
But there is a system of voting used in many parts of the U.S. called rank choice voting (also known as instant runoff and single transferable voting) that assures no vote is "wasted" if none of the candidates have received more than 50% of the votes cast.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) is used for statewide elections in Maine, primaries and special elections in New York state, presidential primaries in five states and numerous local elections in cities like San Francisco, Santa Fe, Minneapolis/St. Paul and, beginning in 2021, New York City. Democracies like Australia (state and national elections) and Ireland (presidential elections) use RCV.
How does RCV work?
Lets say there are six candidates for an office. On your ballot you can rank the candidates from 1 for your first choice and then down to 6 for your last choice. If two candidates are unacceptable to you, then you have the option to only rank the first four candidates.
When ballots are counted, the #1 rank votes are counted for each candidate. If one candidate has more than 50% of the vote, they win.
If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, then the candidate in last place is eliminated and each of that candidate's individual ballots are allocated to whomever the voter listed as second choice. If no candidate has more than 50% of the votes after such allocation, then the process is repeated with the candidate who then is last.
How does RCV aid third-party candidates? With RCV you know that in a close election if your #1 rank third-party candidate doesn't win, your vote may be reallocated to an acceptable second or even third choice. It is not "wasted."
Since whether a third-party candidate is included in debates or news coverage is often dependent on polls indicating support, people may well be motivated to express support for third-party candidates in such polls if they know their vote can be reallocated.
In the primary process, RCV would tend to promote candidates that have broader support, especially in a field with numerous candidates. Both the Republican presidential primaries of 2016 and the early Democratic primaries of 2020 provide clear examples of how candidates with loyal followings on the far right or left can win primaries or nominations without being supported by 50% of the voters during much of the process.
In general elections, we might even see some third-party candidates elected. With the current two-party system, the party with the majority can push legislation through without bipartisan support. If neither traditional party has a majority because of third-party candidates, compromise would be needed to craft moderate legislation that may meet the needs of a broader group of constituents rather than pass legislation that caters to a narrow base.
Currently there are two bills in the Illinois legislature that would establish RCV for statewide offices, SB 2267 and HB 5585. Two bills in the U.S. House of Representatives would implement RCV: HR 4464 for all House and Senate elections and HR 4000, which would mandate RCV for House seats only.
Currently organizations such as FairVote, Unite America and Reform Elections Now are working to promote RCV.
So I encourage readers who want to promote the viability of third-party candidates to read the bills listed and write letters of support for RCV to their state and federal legislators. Research various organizations that promote RCV and see if any merit your support.
We can have a system of fairer elections that broadens our choices, but only if we all take an active role in pressuring our legislators.
Steve Soltys of Springfield is a retired physician who still teaches students at SIU on a volunteer basis.