Will ranked choice voting come to Big Rapids?
Cathie Crew :: Big Rapids Pioneer
The graph indicates how candidates in recent statewide races in Michigan won with less than half of the votes. Proponents of Ranked Choice voting say it would eliminate this result from occurring. (Photo courtesy of Rank MI Vote)
BIG RAPIDS — Big Rapids city commissioners heard from representatives from Rank MI Vote, an organization promoting ranked choice voting in Michigan, during its recent meeting.
Rank MI Vote volunteer Sue Norman told the board their goal is to bring ranked choice voting to the state of Michigan and to support those municipalities who want to implement it at the local level.
“Our desire is to bring a ballot initiative in 2022, and we are working with others toward that goal,” she said.
Norman explained that the organization believes that the current system of voting fails the voter in that it presents the voter with a “lesser of two evils” choice, and creates a situation where they are not comfortable voting for their actual preferred candidate.
“One of the biggest issues with turning out people to vote is the feeling that they have to choose between the “lesser of two evils” and that if they vote for an alternative candidate they have ‘wasted their vote,’” she said. “The way we currently vote does not give a clear picture of the will of the people, and that is what the vote is intended to do.”
Suppose there are two parties, red and green, Norman explained, and 30% of the voters prefer the red-type candidate, while 70% of the voters prefer a green-type candidate.
You would logically expect the green-type candidate to win. However, if there are three green-type candidates and the 70% of votes is split between them, then the red candidate could win even though he/she is not the more popular candidate.
“In a case like that, the voters feel like they wasted their vote and the less popular green-type candidates are considered “spoiler candidates” because they spoiled the vote for the main candidate,” she said.
With ranked-choice voting, she explained, voters can choose their favorite candidate as their number one choice and rank all the other candidates on the ballot as 2nd, 3rd, etc., according to their preference.
Once the votes are tabulated, if no one candidate has a clear majority of votes, then the 2nd place votes for that candidate are added to the candidates’ totals. This continues until a clear majority is reached by one candidate.
“This can change the final outcome of the election and gives the people more of a voice in choosing the winner,” Norman said.
“If you go to the polls and have to vote for what you consider the lesser of two evils, you are not going to be very satisfied,” she added. “Ranked choice voting has shown to increase voter turnout and voter satisfaction.”
Another advantage to ranked choice voting, Norman said, is that it reduces negative campaigning.
“We are finding that in areas that use the ranked-choice voting system, there is less negative campaigning and that candidates are incentivized to talk nicely about each other and just point out the policy differences,” Norman said. “You want to get voters to rank you as their number two choice, if you are not their number one choice, so you focus more on policy and less on each other.”
“Imagine a system with much higher turnout, less negative campaigning and more representative results,” she said. “We can have that with ranked-choice voting.”
Norman added that the ability to rank candidates and come out with clear winner eliminates the need for run-off elections saving the state and local entities money and saving the voters the time and frustration of an additional election.
“A way to look at ranked-choice voting is that it is a built-in instant run-off, which saves time, money and election campaigning,” she said. “If it had been used in Georgia, they would not have had to have the run-off election because a clear majority winner would have been determined in the first election.”
Following the presentation, Mayor Tom Hogenson said he thought that ranked-choice voting could be successful providing it met all the legal requirements.
“I think your example of the Georgia runoff is an excellent one,” Hogenson said. “For those who were disturbed about the 2000 election result, I think this would be interesting. Going to the Supreme Court is not the way to elect a President.”
One of the arguments against implementing the ranked-choice voting, Norman said, is that it will be confusing and too difficult for people to use.
“When you look at the reality of it, it is not that confusing,” she said. “Everyone that has put it into place has found that with voter education there is no significant rise in the number of spoiled ballots.”
Another argument against it is that it will be more difficult to count the votes, she said.
"Counting can still be done by computer, and if not, it is not that difficult to count by hand,” she said. “It may take a little longer, but it can be done.”
“It is certainly intriguing, and my personal view is that it would be something that would be workable,” Hogenson said. “You have given us examples of situations that would have been clarified and run more efficiently using this methodology.
“I would like the have our commission bring this up when we have more time to discuss it and see if it is something we want to support,” he added. “I am sure we will be having many more conversations about it in the months to come.”
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