A large field of candidates should signal a healthy, vibrant democracy. But too often, crowded contests give way to vote-splitting, fears of wasted votes and ultimately, winners without majority support--a problem many Montgomery County voters experienced firsthand in the 2018 local elections, when 38 candidates, including 33 Democrats, vied for 4 at-large seats on the County Council.
Fortunately, a remedy for the many ailments of our winner-take-all system exists: ranked choice voting. It’s easy, effective, and proven to work, evidenced by its widespread use and success in cities nationwide, in Maine, at leading colleges and universities, and even The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar nominees and the Best Picture winner.
Data from ranked-choice-voting elections confirms that voter turnout has increased as candidates have an incentive to appeal to every voter for support, and all voters know their vote matters. Civility has flourished because candidates want second-, third- and fourth-choice support from their opponents’ supporters, incentivizing them to focus on the issues, not personal attacks. Studies also show that more women and candidates of color have won office in jurisdictions with ranked choice voting-- in part because they are more likely to run and in part because voters have more power to choose their representatives than the current method that allows a candidate with a mere plurality to win outright..
How Does Ranked Choice Voting Work?
Voters rank candidates in order of preference--first, second, third, and so on. All the first-choice votes are added up, and the candidate with a majority of the votes wins. If no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and those who ranked that candidate as “number 1” have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins more than half the votes, or 50% plus one.
Who Supports Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked choice voting is supported by a number of local organizations including Common Cause Maryland, the Montgomery County League of Women Voters, Do the Most Good Montgomery County, Represent Maryland, the Maryland Greens, the Montgomery County Libertarian Party, RepresentWomen, and the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County. Montgomery County residents U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez support ranked choice voting as do Maryland’s District 20 delegation and the majority of Montgomery County Council members. Hundreds of supporters have testified at hearings, written letters to the editor, and organized fun “Rank Your Favorite Beer/Music/Wine/Presidential candidate” events.
Ranked choice voting has won support from major news outlets as well, with editorial endorsements by The Economist, The Portland Press Herald, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, and The New York Times. Last year, noted opinion columnist David Brooks wrote an eloquent piece about ranked choice voting titled “The One Reform to Save America,” and the Washington Post has written numerous editorials in favor of ranked choice voting for local elections. In June 2018, the editorial board wrote:
Among the benefits cited by communities that have gone to ranked-choice voting: more positive campaigning by candidates who recognize the need to earn second- and third-choice backing of voters who support their rivals; a more engaged and informed electorate; and voters freed from having to weigh their preference against their calculation of who has a chance to win.
What Would the Montgomery County Legislation Do?
Delegate Eric Luedtke and Senator Cheryl Kagan have introduced MC29-19. The legislation simply enables the Montgomery County Council to consider ranked choice voting for a number of local races; it does not mandate RCV.
How Can You Get Involved?
Support the enabling legislation for Montgomery County by visiting the RCV for Maryland website. You can sign up to volunteer, use our handy tool to tell your delegates why you support RCV, sign the petition urging elected officials to support the enabling legislation, and follow/like/share RCV for Montgomery County on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Don’t sit back and let a flawed system dictate winners and losers. Maximize your power as a voter and show your commitment to fair and democratic elections by backing ranked choice voting for Montgomery County.
About the author: Cynthia Richie Terrell, is a WDC member and Executive Director of RepresentWomen