Having fun with ranked choice voting

We had some visitors to the House Government Operations and Military Affairs committee this past spring. They were in town from Utah and Colorado to talk about ranked choice voting, and to illustrate their points in a way they thought Vermonters could understand. They had us vote for our favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor, which was totally relatable and I appreciated it.

Ranked choice voting is currently part of a bill from the Vermont Senate called S.32 which would allow towns to use the system only for local elections starting in 2024. It would eventually phase the system in for presidential primaries across the state in 2028. It’s a slow roll-out.

The whole thing with our expert guest witnesses started with a bad taste in my mouth (I know, sorry) because one of the candidates was Chunky Monkey. I’ll go out on a political limb here and say it’s disgusting, and I’m willing to debate anyone who wants to throw down over it. Anything else, I respect and appreciate your thoughts and opinions, but I draw the line at banana-flavored ice cream. 

Ranked choice voting, which we also call RCV, is a voting system that allows voters to rank their choices and then winnows them down until there’s a clear majority winner. Let’s say you like Chunky Monkey the most. You are wrong, but I’m not going to tell you how to vote. Your other options for best ice cream ever are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cherry Garcia, and Phish Food. If we used ranked choice voting, your ballot might rank like this:

Chunky Monkey
Cherry Garcia
Phish Food
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

In real life, this system would work well for a selectboard race, for instance, or a city council, if there are multiple candidates for one position or one board. If, say, Chunky Monkey won at least 50 percent of the vote plus one, then Chunky Monkey would officially be the best ice cream ever. If, however, it didn’t get a clear majority of the votes, then the flavor (or candidate) that received the fewest number of first-place votes would be removed from the race. 

In this case, let’s say Cookie Dough is the least common favorite. We’d get rid of Cookie Dough from everyone’s ballot and then tabulate again, moving the second choice up to first on the ballots of everyone who had initially chosen Cookie Dough as their number one. In a regular election, if you voted for Cookie Dough, your ballot would just be out. In a ranked choice voting election, your second choice would then be your first choice. After tabulating that round, if there’s no clear over 50 percent winner, the second least-popular candidate would then be removed and we’d keep going until there’s a clear winner of the majority.

I’ve lost you, haven’t I.

It can hurt your brain a little bit if you think too much about it, but we listened to a lot of people talking about this, and it really does make sense to me and allows for more voices to be heard. Unfortunately, it also seems like the people who are going to be most bothered by it are the town clerks and their election-night volunteers, but I’m confident that the secretary of state’s office will offer a lot of support and education in the years and months leading up to its implementation, if the bill goes through this coming year.

The downsides to ranked choice voting is that it’s admittedly a little confusing at first, and like any system change in the government, it will probably cost some time and money to implement. I think the part about confusion is especially valid. I know many people worry about secure elections, and the only way this is all going to work at all is if people trust the election system and have confidence that their vote will be counted fairly and securely. It’s going to take some clear explanation and training to make sure, should this system be implemented, that it works for the voters. That’s the whole point.

I’m actually willing to hear your thoughts on Chunky Monkey, but I’m pretty sure my mind is made up. Feel free to email at [email protected] or text or call me at 917-887-8231 any time.