Ranked Choice: Eliminating vote splitting on the general election ballot.

A closed primary allows major parties the opportunity to consolidate their support behind a single candidate for each office. In the past, this eliminated vote splitting in the general election – because the two major parties represented the vast majority of voters. Unfortunately, in recent years, the Democratic party has begun to fracture badly.

“Liberal” and “Progressive” are not the same thing, and many progressive voters do not support the priorities and solutions advocated by liberal Democrats. Indeed, many progressive voters are not liberal. Increasingly, these “other” progressives are choosing not to participate in the Democratic primary as voters or candidates. As a result, in the coming years, two or more strong progressive candidates will likely advance to every significant general election. The predictable outcome is that a single conservative candidate will win election by default. (Bush, Gore/Nader – Florida 2000)

“Ranked Choice Voting” (RCV) is a simple and effective method of consolidating all the progressive vote prior to the final vote tally in a general election.

“Ranked Choice Voting” (RCV) is a hybrid general election that uses a two stage vote tally to combine a multiple candidate general election with a top-two run-off.

An example of Ranked Choice in use.

Shown below is a mock RCV ballot for the 2016 Oregon general election – if – four candidates had been advanced from an open top-four primary. The top four candidates are listed in order – based on a presumed final vote count from the primary. Voters using an RCV ballot are allowed to indicate a first and second choice for each office. Any combination of choices is permissible – as long as the vote-for-one rules are not violated.

Mock RCV Ballot for 2016 General Election

Note, this is a mock ballot. There’s no way to ascertain, with any certainty, which four candidates would have advanced. (Oregon did not conduct a top-four primary in 2016.) This ballot shows only one possibility, and this particular possibility was chosen to highlight the most likely outcome. The ballot shows Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both advancing from the primary to the general election.

Shown below are presumed – but nonetheless reasonable mock results for the ballot shown above. In Oregon, statewide Republican candidates normally garner 46%-47% of the vote – rarely higher, sometimes lower. Libertarian candidates normally poll around 1% – 2%, and Write-Ins are normally 1% or less. Democrats get all the progressive vote if the Pacific Green Party and Independent Party of Oregon are not on the ballot.

We assume 100 ballots returned – just to make the math simple. (Note, the results don’t add up to 100. This is due to “Under-Voting”. Voters in Oregon and elsewhere don’t fill in their ballots completely when they’re dissatisfied with the choices given…


Mock RCV Results for 2016 General Election

The results shown above are reasonable for this particular slate of candidates. Note:

  1. It’s permissible to choose the same candidate for a first and second choice. Many voters did this for Trump, Sanders and Clinton.
  2. It’s permissible to leave the second choice blank. The second choice votes for Trump don’t add up to 46 (The first choice count)
  3. Major party voters typically assume that minor party voters will support a Democrat or Republican as their second choice. The results shown above are probably more realistic.

The results of the first tally are shown below. The top two candidates were Trump and Clinton. The remaining three candidates were eliminated along with their votes.


Mock RCV 1st Tally Results for 2016 General Election

The second tally consolidates the votes for the top two candidates, and hopefully, determines a single top candidate. Note that RCV is designed specifically to solve the problem of vote splitting in the general election. The example shown above is realistic, in that without RCV, Donald Trump could easily have won this election with only 46% of the vote.


Mock RCV 2nd Tally Results for 2016 General Election

Other types of primary election.

The example above was based on an open top-four primary. It turns out that, with the sole exception of the nonpartisan top-two, vote splitting in the general election cripples progressive candidates no matter what type of primary is used.

By definition, only two candidates advance from a top-two primary, so there cannot be vote splitting in the general election. Unfortunately, the problem of vote splitting is merely transferred to the primary. In addition, many Independent voters view the top-two primary as a “backdoor” attempt by Democrats to eliminate third party candidates from the general election ballot altogether.

In a closed primary, All unaffiliated candidates and voters are excluded from participating in the primary. Not surprisingly, in states that conduct closed primaries, there are typically several third parties nominating candidates to the general election ballot.

In 2016, Republicans had not won a statewide race in Oregon for over a decade. Nonetheless, the Republican candidate was elected to Secretary of State with only 46% of the vote. As the results shown below indicate, progressive voters made up almost 50% of the electorate, but this voting block was split between three progressive candidates – Democrat, Pacific Green Party, and Independent Party. (Source: November 8, 2016, General Election Abstract of Votes)

Sharon L Durbin (LIB)46,9752.49%
Dennis Richardson (REP)892,66947.38%
Paul Damian Wells (IPO)64,9563.44%
Brad Avakian (DEM)814,08943.21%
Alan Zundel (PG)47,5762.52%
Michael Marsh (CON)15,2690.81%

A hybrid primary is a new type of election that uses a two stage vote tally to combine an open top-four election with the existing closed party primaries. Unlike a simple top-four, it’s designed specifically to limit each major party to one candidate appiece – leaving two spots on the general election ballot for Minor Party or Independent candidates. Nonetheless, so many unaffiliated voters receive Open Ballots (40% in Oregon), that it’s entirely possible, for a strong major party candidate to lose in the winner-take-all partisan tally – but still qualify for one of the four general election ballot spots.

Consolidating the progressive vote.

All the progressive vote needs to be consolidated prior to the final vote tally in each general election – or the conservative candidate will win election by default. Currently, Democrats are still colluding with Republicans to exclude Independent and Minor party candidates in the primary. In effect, forcing voters to choose between the lesser of two evils in the general election.

The exclusion strategy has worked, and still appears to be working for Republicans. For Democrats however, the exclusion strategy, while it clearly worked in decades past – is no longer effective. Many “other” progressives are refusing to support Democratic candidates precisely because of tacit Democratic support for voter and candidate exclusion.

Democrats (collectively) need to make a decision: Continue collaborating with Republicans to exclude other progressive voters and candidates – or – join with “other” progressives to win elections. Which is more important?