Bipartisan group of lawmakers seeks ranked-choice voting in Wisconsin
Patrick Marley :: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON – A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is seeking to blow up how Wisconsin chooses members of Congress by making primaries nonpartisan and establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections.
Backers say the changes would foster bipartisanship because candidates would be inspired to appeal to the broadest slice of the electorate, not just those in their party.
The effort is being led by two Republicans and two Democrats with the backing of Democracy Found , a Wisconsin-based group founded by Katherine Gehl , the former chief executive officer of her family’s food business, and Austin Ramirez , the CEO of equipment-maker HUSCO International.
Ramirez said it's essential to change how voters choose members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
"It's not even that we've got the wrong people representing us in D.C., but that their incentive structure is such that, you know, they benefit from dividing and fighting more than they do from legislating and getting things passed," Ramirez said.
Under legislation unveiled Wednesday, in House and Senate races people could vote for any candidate, regardless of party.
The five candidates who got the most votes in the primary would get on the general election ballot. In that election, voters would rank the candidates.
If the top candidate had a majority, he or she would be the winner. If no one had a majority, the lowest-performing candidate would be eliminated and those who backed that candidate would see their second choices assigned to the remaining candidates. The process would be repeated until one candidate had more than 50% of the vote.
Maine uses ranked-choice voting and Alaska will put it in place for the 2022 election. Numerous cities around the country also use it for local elections, according to FairVote , a nonpartisan organization that supports the system.
The Wisconsin proposal would change how House and Senate candidates are chosen, but not candidates for governor, the Legislature or other offices.
Ramirez and Republican Sen. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield, a sponsor of the measure, said the bill focuses on federal offices for now because there is broad sentiment that Congress is broken. They said they supported changing the system for legislative elections but were starting by concentrating on Congress.
The bill will be hard to pass, Kooyenga acknowledged.
"People in office have been able to navigate the current system, right?" he said. "And so whenever you're changing the system that has put in place the existing system, I mean it's going to be difficult."
The change could create headaches for municipal clerks and local governments. Clerks would have to run two different types of primaries at the same time and local governments would have to buy new equipment that could tabulate winners under the ranked-choice system.
In addition to Kooyenga, the bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Tony Kurtz of Wonewoc, Democratic Sen. Jeff Smith of Eau Claire and Democratic Rep. Daniel Riemer of Milwaukee.
It also has the backing of Republican U.S. Rep. Gallagher of Green Bay.
“Final-Five Voting realigns electoral incentives in a way that creates greater accountability to voters, and rewards finding common ground,” he said in a statement. “At a time of intense partisanship, we’re in dire need of solutions.”
The bill comes as some Republicans who control the Legislature seek to limit absentee voting and require those who vote early in person to fill out more paperwork. Other Republicans have said they plan to introduce other voting legislation soon.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he would veto any legislation that he believes would make it harder to vote.
Also this week, a group of Democrats made public legislation to require Wisconsin to join an agreement to have the state's 10 Electoral College votes go to the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections. The agreement would not take effect until enough states sign onto it to ensure the winner of the popular vote would become president.
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