The Seattle City Council’s decision to put a ranked-choice voting initiative on the ballot in November has set up a voting-method showdown between ranked-choice (RCV) and approval voting (AV).
Browse any website promoting ranked-choice voting (RCV), and inevitably you’ll see headlines promising a real chance for independent, progressive, or third-party candidates to finally win. As the logic goes, with ranked-choice voting, you’ll be able to put your real choice first, and new voices can win.
In reality, RCV advocates are promoting a system that will get the results they prefer by giving Independent and 3rd party voters the false solution of ranked-choice.
The truth is that RCV is not about fair elections or expression. It’s about changing who wins.
For many advocates, the ranked-choice movement goes back to the 2000 election. Had Ralph Nader voters been able to rank their candidates, they surely would have ranked Al Gore as their second choice, he would have won Florida, and we would be living in a veritable age of reason.
Here’s why: Under RCV, Ralph Nader didn’t have enough support to make it to the 2nd round of tabulation, so his votes would be theoretically reallocated to Al Gore.
That was the logic I used when working on election data for Democratic campaigns for almost 10 years. The truth is that RCV advocates want your vote to go to the Democratic Party, where they think it should. So they support a reform that gives you the illusion of expression.
In their mind, when the multiple rounds of counting are over, your vote will be safely in the hands of the Democrats, and that’s all the final results will reflect. Sure, you could go to the Board of Elections and see the raw results, unmasking the expression you intended. But who has time for that?
Your other option – approval voting – offers a much more transparent look at the election results. With approval voting, you can pick all the candidates you like, and each one will get a vote. There’s no complicated tabulation process, just simple addition.
As a voter, you will be free to pick your Independent, progressive, or third-party candidate, along with anyone else you like, and your full preference will be recorded. And as a candidate, you need every vote you can get which incentivizes outreach across the electorate. With approval voting, candidates can’t just rely on their core supporters. At the end of the counting, if 20 percent of the electorate likes a third-party candidate, that support will be there for all to see.
Imagine the space that creates for candidates with new ideas and the incentive it creates for candidates to engage with every voter.
In the coming months, you’ll hear RCV proponents talk about centrist candidates and what they claim is the inevitable impact of approval voting. But that’s not what the record shows.
When voters in St. Louis used approval voting during their 2021 mayoral primary, they selected Tishaura Jones, a strong progressive who has brought an ambitious plan to the city. She had the approval of 57% of the voters.
Last month, voters in Fargo used approval voting for the 2nd time. The reform helped lead to more candidates running than ever before and provided an accurate and fair system for measuring voter support.
Contrast that with who wins RCV elections in Maine and New York City. Centrist candidates like Congressman Jared Golden and Mayor Eric Adams emerge after weeks of counting as the candidates with the most votes.
I have no opinion on these winners, but they are not the progressive champions RCV promises, nor has there been an increase in vote share for third-party candidates or independents.
The voting method should have nothing to do with selecting a different winner. It should be about empowering voters. That’s why approval voting is the better option because it provides real choice and transparency.
Ranked-choice voting is electoral reform brought to you by the establishment. They want your vote, and they’ll get it if we choose RCV.