When we know what we want, we expect immediate results, from Instant Pots to Instagram. But that’s not yet the case in Louisiana elections, where runoffs delay results and cost double the money for a second election that often attracts less than half the turnout.
Take the nine-way special election for secretary of state last year. It drew more than 50 percent of registered voters in November, but only 17 percent in the December runoff. Fully 60 percent of first-round voters had wanted someone else, and few likely came back to vote. Due to split votes, Republicans almost missed getting a candidate in the runoff.
There’s a solution: the ranked-choice voting ballot, as cast by thousands of voters last year in primaries in Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina and in general elections in Mississippi and, yes, Louisiana. Louisiana pioneered the process for military voters to increase the chance for their runoff vote to count.
Baton Rouge, look to Shreveport to see your electoral future.
Louisiana’s overseas and military absentee voters ranked the secretary of state candidates in order of choice. In December their ballots counted for the runoff candidate ranked highest on their ballot.
Louisiana could extend the power to rank candidates to all voters. If a candidate earns more than half of the first choices, they win, just like today. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is out, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half of the votes.
Consider it an “instant runoff” — winnowing the field to the top two to elect a majority winner, but in one election.
It puts an end to statewide leaders being chosen by 17 percent of voters.Voter participation often increases all the more because voters feel greater voice in the decision-making process. Also gone? The $6 million state tab for an extra election.
It also improves elections. Polarizing political attacks lose value as candidates adapt to a new kind of campaigning where there’s value in earning a voter’s backup choice even if the rank someone else first.
Last year was a big one for the idea. Going into 2018, 10 cities were voting with ranked choice voting. Now, at least 22 cities and counties are set to use it, and Maine used it for the first time to elect their Members of Congress. Over 60 percent of Mainers want to keep or expand RCV, echoing a 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton poll showing strong satisfaction among the 2,400 voters surveyed across seven cities.
Instant, effective, well-liked: consider it the Instant Pot of electoral reform. Who’s hungry?
CEO and president, FairVote
Takoma Park, Maryland