Ranked-choice voting is a better way to vote


George T. Rohrich
George T. Rohrich is a resident of Chelan. He is completing his MA in Peace and Conflict studies. When not working he can be found backpacking in the wilderness of the PNW or enjoying a local wine. He is the son of George Rohrich, the CEO of Lake Chelan Health, whose photo was inadvertently posted earlier with this column.
 
When making decisions, more options are better. We find this everywhere in our day-to-day life, whether it’s hefty decisions such as purchasing a home, or more mundane ones of which wine to choose.
When we have a variety of choices before us, we can make a choice that will best reflect our own desires and preferences. There is less need to go with a “lesser evil” that may compromise our own inclinations, and it actually motivates us to voice our decision. The logic is simple.
So, I often ask myself, why don’t we apply this logic to how we choose our elected officials? Let’s talk about one of those everyday decisions that exemplifies this type of reasoning clearly. 
When we go to visit wineries in our beautiful valley for the first time such as Cairdeas, WineGirl Wine, Succession, or the dozens of others we’re blessed to have, did you stick to a preferred habit of red/white? Did you order a flight to sample each one? If you’re like me, you probably had a few different preferences. You may have even been able to rank them!
Now to be real, choosing who manages our towns, our school districts, and our county infrastructure isn’t as simple as choosing which wine you’ll sample at your local winery. We invest in these important choices that affect the whole of our communities and their futures. If we approve of our leaders, we re-elect them. If not, we look for others to do a better job. 
But the truth is, we don’t have the variety of choices we would like to have when we are undertaking the important civil duty of voting that helps define who we are as Americans and Washingtonians. A winner-take-all system actually pushes us into a scarcity mindset. And this in turn will turn away qualified candidates with whom we may resonate more. We are more equipped to pick out a wine that suits us than an elected official who represents us.
But I think ranked-choice voting can help. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a voting process which invites more qualified candidates to run for office, offers a more equitable means of choosing a winner, and gives more power to voters.
Here’s how it works. RCV allows voters to rank multiple candidates by preference, with their first choice first, second choice second, etc. When the polls close, all of the first choice votes are added up. If a candidate has over half of the votes, they win!
However, if no candidate has over half of the votes, the lowest candidate, who is sure not to win, is eliminated, and the voters who voted for that candidate instead get to support the candidate they marked second on their ballot. This elimination round continues until a candidate has over half of the votes!
In this form of election, people who liked a candidate that didn’t do well still get to support a finalist candidate! They can feel comfortable knowing that their vote had an impact on the outcome.
RCV holds the possibility of creating a more civil and friendly election. Negative campaigning happens when a candidate must be your one and only favorite candidate. But what happens when there is a wide field of candidates all vying for your first, second, and third choices?
All of a sudden, candidates can’t just focus on tearing each other down, they have to focus on why they think they represent you and have the solutions that your town needs. This is why people who have used RCV report that campaigns in their area are much more about issues and problem solving under this system.
Currently in the state legislature, there is a bill called SHB 1156, also known as the Ranked-Choice Voting Local Options bill. If enacted, this bill would allow local jurisdictions to be able to upgrade to RCV as their election system. County and local governments would have to choose to opt in to such a system, so there is no mandate. Fundamentally, this bill is about letting localities choose the election system that is right for them.
RCV has been growing in popularity over the country in the last few years. Large municipalities such as New York City and San Francisco will begin using it. But it has also struck a chord in more rural areas with Alaska using it at the state level in the next election cycle and suburban areas of Minnesota just adopting it last year. In fact, the City of Gold Bar, with a population of less than 2,000, has joined the throng of jurisdictions across Washington asking the legislature to pass SHB 1156.
Ranked-choice voting doesn’t favor any party. Rather, it favors the voters. It’s a call for reform that echoes one of the foundations of our society: freedom of choice. And just like your flight of Pinot Gris, Savigonon, Merlot, and Rieslings, the more options you have, the better the choice.

George is a resident of Chelan, a masters student in political science, an avid hiker in Washington’s wilderness and a lover of wine.
 

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