Need Two or More Candidates

Dear Watchers,

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), the method described in the October/November 2018 Whatcom Watch article, would not have been useful for all races in the recent midterm elections because RCV is only appropriate when more than two candidates are on the ballot. Where appropriate, however, RCV has clear advantages as the article pointed out. As a local example, consider the 40th Legislative District (Rep. #1) primary in August where the top-two of six candidates were selected for the November general election. Leaving aside the fact that RCV could have made this primary unnecessary, it is interesting to consider how this primary might have worked under RCV. The actual outcome of this primary (see election results below) provides a starting point for a hypothetical, but not implausible, RCV election scenario.

The top-two candidates in the August primary had 28.19 percent and 21.03 percent of the votes, less than a majority. Thus, a majority of voters had absolutely no influence on the outcome. In this case, that majority was slim, but it is not difficult to imagine a multi-candidate election where a large majority would have no influence on the outcome.

Under RCV, the candidate with the least votes (2,629 — 6.55 percent in this case) is dropped, and the second choices of his supporters are transferred accordingly. In this hypothetical RCV election, we assume voters chose to rank only candidates of their preferred party, so the 2,629 second choices of his supporters transfer to the remaining three candidates of his party (arbitrarily assumed in equal parts). After repeating this process two more times, the top-two emerge with support from a solid majority (40.67 percent, 31.61 percent). Also, one of the top-two candidates was different in this hypothetical RCV election than in the actual August primary.

Whether this hypothetical outcome would have better reflected the collective will of 40th District voters is a matter of opinion. But this outcome illustrates clearly that under RCV winners have a much greater chance of majority support and that voters have a much greater opportunity to influence the outcome. RCV also has other advantages as the article in the October/November issue described. Where appropriate, Ranked Choice Voting deserves serious consideration in my opinion.

John Whitmer