Ranked-choice voting could make primaries less like free-for-alls

The votes are counted in rounds, with the lowest vote-getter eliminated in each round and the votes of that candidate assigned to his or her supporters’ second choices. 

By

Opinion

March 16, 2020 - 10:20 AM

Before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, hugs former Vice President Joe Biden at a Democratic presidential debate in Westerville in October. Photo by Adam Cairns/Dispatch

The whiplash that Democratic primary voters experienced this campaign season is unhelpful for both the party and democracy. The perceived leader swung wildly from primary to primary, with each outcome displeasing the majority of voters who didn’t support the winner. The field does eventually winnow down, as seen in the exits of every major contender, leaving only former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race. But an outcome in which the eventual nominee is someone the majority of Democrats didn’t necessarily want remains real.

It’s an almost-inevitable side effect of any election with multiple candidates — but one that could be smoothed out with one change: ranked-choice voting, which would let voters choose not only their first choice but also their second, third and beyond. The votes are counted in rounds, with the lowest vote-getter eliminated in each round and the votes of that candidate assigned to his or her supporters’ second choices. That process continues until someone has a majority.

Some states are using it in their presidential primaries this year. It’s worth consideration by Missouri and other states, with an eye toward making it the national standard. The system could better represent the will of the voters. The traditional primary system, after all, is what allowed Donald Trump to win the GOP nomination with 13 million votes even though 16 million Republicans voted against him.

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