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Berkheimer: A better choice for voters

Darrell Berkheimer
Guest Commentary
The Aspen Times

What better time to call for elections reform than a few days before a national election — at a time when completing ballots have been on the minds of every voter? 

And, that question raises more questions. 

Have you been discouraged from voting because you didn’t like either candidate?



Would you like to see a ballot with more choices?

Would you like to see a lot less negative campaigning? 




Would you prefer that every winning candidate receives 50%-plus in total votes? 

And, would you like to see substantial amounts of taxpayers’ money saved on elections?

All those benefits come from adopting ranked-choice voting. 

So, isn’t it time for California to join Alaska and Maine in leading the rest of the nation toward universal adoption of ranked-choice voting?    

More and more folks are learning how ranked-choice voting works, but, for those who haven’t, here’s a simple explanation: 

You get to choose from more than two candidates. But, you must rank each as your first, second, or third choice, to as many as fourth and fifth choices — depending on how many choices are allowed by the system in effect where you vote.

If a candidate receives more than half the votes cast, that candidate wins. But, when there is no majority winner, the race is decided by an instant runoff.

Then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as their first choice will have their second choices allotted to the remaining candidates. 

The process continues until one candidate receives more than 50% approval from the choices cast — or until only two candidates remain, and the majority candidate wins. Most often the winner is evident by the third or fourth round. 

Voters, however, are not required to rank candidates if they don’t want to. They have the choice of voting for just one person as in the past. And, proponents admit that some voters may experience a bit of initial confusion but added that quickly disappears after their first time participating in the ranked-choice voting system. 

Ranked-choice voting has been identified as “the fastest-growing electoral reform in the country” by both CalRCV, a California nonpartisan movement, and FairVote, a national organization for election reforms. And, it has received overwhelming bipartisan support wherever it has been initiated, according to Georgetown University’s Public Policy Review. 

So far, ranked choice voting has been adopted by six cities in California — Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro, Berkeley, Albany, Eureka, and Palm Desert. In addition to Alaska and Maine, 23 cities in Utah enacted ranked choice voting in 2021 when they took advantage of a state-approved Local Options Bill.

As of this past July, FairVote identified 55 cities, counties, and states that will be using ranked-choice voting in their next elections. And internationally, RCV has been fully adopted by Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Malta, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. 

The Georgetown University Public Policy Review cited a major benefit of ranked-choice voting is the elimination of costly runoff elections — which usually have low voter turnout and force counties and cities to pay substantial sums of money seldom included in their budgets. 

In a 2020 bipartisan report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, ranked-choice voting is identified as “a more welcoming environment for third-party candidates.” In allowing for more ballot choices, it provides more opportunities for smaller political parties to present a winning candidate.

Opposition to the system originates mostly with incumbents, who lose the advantage they have when only a two-person race. Ranked choice voting levels the playing field by making elections more competitive with more challengers. 

CalRCV noted “candidates are incentivized to appeal to the broadest possible coalition of their constituents — not just a vocal minority. This rewards less-polarizing candidates and reduces negative campaigning.”

Alisha Saxena, editor in chief of Public Policy Review, concluded ranked-choice voting “saves governments money, empowers voters, … diversifies candidate pools, and will strengthen American democracy” when implemented nationwide. 

So, I searched the internet to learn if there are any examples of cities, states, or countries that revoked ranked-choice voting. I suspect there’s one or two somewhere, but the internet failed to report any.

I think that alone speaks volumes about how well the system is liked by participating voters.

Darrell Berkheimer is a retired California journalist whose career spans nearly 60 years. He filled editor positions with newspapers in Pennsylvania, Utah, Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico. He also is the author of several essays books. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com

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