Sometimes advancing political goals is a matter of seizing a moment, and Illinois could be in the middle of one such transformation.
In November more than 80% of Evanston voters approved becoming the state’s first community to adopt the process for municipal elections, already the standard for statewide balloting in Alaska and Maine, plus at least 50 cities nationwide, according to FairVote, a nonprofit election reform agency.
Last week state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, and state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, circulated a letter promoting their legislative attempt to gradually introduce ranked choice voting at the statewide level. If approved, House Bill 2807 would “allow the Democratic and Republican parties in Illinois to decide whether to adopt RCV for their presidential primary,” according to their letter. “Because of party rules, if RCV is adopted by the Democrats, delegates would be assigned proportionally between the top ranked candidates who earn 15% or more of the vote, whereas the Republicans assign all delegates to the first ranked candidate.”
Although it’s early in the presidential primary cycle, the legislators pointed to a much more recent example as instructive. There were nine candidates in Chicago’s February mayoral primary. Not only would ranked choice voting have eliminated the need for an April runoff, the lawmakers said, but it’s possible neither of the final two candidates would’ve won under the proposed system.
A ranked choice ballot asks voters to mark all candidates in order of their support. The initial count tallies only everyone’s preferred winner. If someone gets a majority, that’s the result. But if no one reaches 50% plus one, there’s a second count with the last place finisher eliminated and the second choice on those ballots given to those candidates.
In a three-person race, the math is simple. It’s a lot less clean in instances like Chicago, where the top primary finisher got just 34%, going on to lose the runoff. FairVote suggests voters stop ranking if they’re indifferent about remaining choices, but encourages developing opinions about the full slate. A completely ranked ballot “will never hurt your first choice, but it might help your next choice defeat your last choice.”
In Chicago third place was the incumbent. It’s fair to debate if that actually represented a moderate option between the two more extreme finalists – especially because all three ran as Democrats – but that’s the type of scenario where a loser might’ve been able to win.
Opposition is plentiful, especially to comprehensive overhaul, but reformers hope to earn support by focusing on presidential primaries and a belief the system “favors candidates with broad appeal and encourages positive campaigning.”
Those shifts won’t materialize based on only a few states, but don’t be surprised if momentum increases.
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at email@example.com.