Manifolds, Manolos, and Manure
As Chicago voters faced ballots longer than my favorite corgi is tall, Alderman Matt Martin (47th ward) dared to suggest that Chicago transition to an increasingly popular idea: ranked choice voting.
With ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference. First choice. Second choice. Third pick. All the way down the race.
If a candidate wins over 50 percent of the first-preference votes, that candidate is declared a winner. If none of the candidates receive 50 percent an instant-runoff is held in which the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. First choice votes for the eliminated candidate go to their second-choice candidate. A new tally is done to see if any candidate has received over 50 percent. The process is repeated until a candidate receives over 50 percent. Yes, there are instances in which the voting and tallying is complete, and a candidate still does not have 50 percent of the vote.
Chicago aldermen and mayoral candidates currently face off in a non-partisan election. If a candidate does not receive 50 percent of the vote they go to a run-off (not an instant runoff). The existing system is expensive, not only for taxpayers but also for those candidates who essentially have to run two races.
Yes, if Chicago transitions to a ranked choice voting system there will be initial costs to modify voting systems. Ask Evanston about the costs, as Evanston voters will utilize ranked choice voting for municipal elections beginning in April of 2025.
Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Washington utilize ranked choice voting. San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York City, and Memphis either already use ranked choice voting or are transitioning to it.
Reform For Illinois has advocated for ranked choice voting across the state, saying that it’s a more democratic way to elect local leaders. FairVote, an organization that advocates for election reforms, argues that when state and legislatures use a winner takes all approach they place parties and elections over voters. Those races tend to be more partisan. Polarized. And lower turnout.
In addition, proponents argue that ranked choice voting could expand the pool of candidates. Voters often weigh the decision of voting for their preferred candidate or the candidate they think will do the best in the race with ranked choice voting voters don’t have to make that choice. With ranked choice voting, voters can rank their preferred candidate and the candidate they feel will do the best in the race.
Deseret News, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, counters that there’s no good way to handle races with multiple candidates. In fact, when there are more than two candidates involved “democracy gets fuzzy”. Their word not mine. Critics take it another step further, saying that the system is complicated. Voters struggle to understand it. And that there’s value in that final, expensive round of voting.
Looking at the 2014 Chicago mayoral election, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle received around 33 percent of the vote. Both advanced to the runoff. However, 60 percent of voters didn’t vote for either Lightfoot or Preckwinkle. With a ranked choice election perhaps those voters’ second or third choices would’ve been Lightfoot or Preckwinkle but we’ll never know that. It’s arguable that in the situation illustrated above democracy didn’t prevail.
With the municipal election in the rear-view mirror, maybe it’s time for Chicago to have a serious conversation about ranked choice voting. After all, the next nonpartisan election is just four years away.