This piece was co-authored with Ethan Fitzgerald.
With 2017 state legislative sessions fully underway (and in some cases already drawing to a close), ranked choice voting is becoming an increasingly popular proposal. There are now 18 states with bills advancing ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting’s ability to both make election cycles more efficient and level the playing field for all candidates and parties makes it popular across the political spectrum - both as a general reform and as a useful tool to solve specific problems. This is reflected in the balanced support that ranked choice voting receives for a range of uses from Republican and Democratic state legislators.
In 2017, 12 bills in 11 states have Republican sponsors or co-sponsors, while 20 bills in 13 states have Democratic sponsors of co-sponsors. These bills represent the full range of ways ranked choice voting can be used to improve local and state democracy.
The most ambitious bills introduced by Republicans were in Missouri, Rhode Island, and Virginia. In Virgina, Del. Nick Freitas introduced HB 2315 to elect all state and federal offices with ranked choice voting. In Rhode Island, five Republicans and independent Rep. Blake Filippi introduced H5513, which adopts ranked choice voting in elections for all state offices.
In Missouri, Rep. Dan Stacy’s HB 856 would require all state and federal offices be elected with ranked choice voting, while Sen. David Sater’s SB 140 would require ranked choice voting be used to elect local offices. Introducing his bill, Stacy said,
“As legislators and citizens we should always be concerned about having voters being able to express and give measure to their preferences in who governs. Instant runoff voting is the best and most accurate way to understand the will of the people without placing any predetermined propensity toward any one candidate. Instant runoff voting measures the closest ultimate will of the people when more than two candidates run for the same race.”
Republicans introduced important, if more modest bills in several other states. Bills to establish commissions that would study ranked choice voting were introduced by Rep. Jesse McLachlan in Connecticut and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer in Wyoming. Ranked choice voting is proposed as a solution for special elections, primaries, and for overseas and military voters in Georgia, New York, North Carolina, and Utah. Illinois and Washington both saw state voting rights acts that offer multi-winner ranked choice voting as a remedy in local voting rights lawsuits.
Notable Democratic legislation includes bills in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Sen. Daniel Biss introduced SB 780 in Illinois, which would require all state executive offices be elected with ranked choice voting. In Massachusetts, HB 377 was introduced by Rep. Jay Kaufman to use ranked choice voting to elect all state offices and SB 380 was introduced by Sen. James Eldridge to allow local governments to use ranked choice voting.
“Although many American cities using ranked choice voting can be characterized as politically progressive, Republican support for ranked choice voting is longstanding.”
In Utah, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck introduced HB 349, which would require ranked choice voting be used in primary and general elections for state offices. The bill has the potential to solve an ongoing dispute around the nominating process in Utah, and passed out of committee last week with Republican support in an 8-1 vote. Democrats also introduced bills advancing ranked choice voting in Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.
Although many American cities using ranked choice voting can be characterized as politically progressive, Republican support for ranked choice voting is longstanding. US Senator John McCain endorsed Alaska’s 2002 ballot measure on ranked choice voting, the Utah Republican Party often uses ranked choice voting to nominate candidates at caucus conventions, former Michigan Republican Party chair Saul Anuzis touted ranked choice voting for presidential nomination contests last year, and numerous Republican leaders supported the historic campaign to adopt ranked choice voting in Maine statewide last year.
An increasing number of Americans are calling out for more choice and a stronger voice in our elections, and it’s encouraging to see that political parties recognize ranked choice voting as a fair way to empower all voters. FairVote applauds Republican and Democratic lawmakers for turning to ranked choice voting as a means to improve our politics.