Ranked choice voting would benefit Illinois voters, candidates

Ranked choice voting in Illinois would benefit both political parties by opening the door to a larger and more diverse pool of candidates, state Rep. Kam Buckner writes.

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A group of people stand at their voting partitions and vote on the final day of early voting for the Chicago mayoral runoff election at the downtown voting super site, Monday, April 3, 2023.

A group of people stand at their voting partitions and vote on the final day of early voting for the Chicago mayoral runoff election at the downtown voting super site, Monday, April 3, 2023.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As Chicago and Illinois get ready to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, our state should be paving the way towards a more democratic system of voting, starting with the presidential primary.

Bringing ranked choice voting (RCV) to Illinois is something we can all get behind, regardless of political ideology. Legislation (HB2807 and SB 1456) is now making its way through Springfield that would put Illinois on the growing list of states that are considering adopting RCV.

Such a system would benefit both voters and candidates, creating a political landscape that is more hospitable to a larger and more diverse pool of qualified candidates to run for office.

One of the biggest problems with our current presidential primary system is that votes go to waste. State primaries take place over months, and during that time, people are voting early or absentee for candidates who may end up dropping out before primary election day, or are otherwise not viable because they don’t receive enough votes. This impacts both Democrats and Republicans. During their last competitive presidential primary in Illinois, over 70,000 Democrats and 30,000 Republicans had their votes thrown out because the candidate they voted for dropped out before their primary.

Opinion bug

Opinion

With a ranked choice ballot, voters rank the candidates in order of their preference. If their first-choice candidate drops out, the voter’s second choice will get their vote, and so on. Ultimately, the winner of a ranked choice system has the support of a larger and more diverse coalition of voters, because they pick up second- and third-choice votes in order to win.

In January 2020, there were 13 Democratic candidates for president remaining, including five candidates of color and one openly gay candidate. But by March 17, when the Illinois primary took place, only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — two white males — remained.

If we had used ranked choice ballots, it’s possible that some of the candidates would have stayed in the race, no one’s vote would’ve been wasted on a candidate who dropped out, and the final allotment of delegates would have more accurately reflected voters’ true choices.

More diversity, a better political climate

Right now, many candidates of color are discouraged from running for office or drop out of a race because people are concerned that voters will prioritize voting strategically for a front-runner. or that multiple candidates of the same race will “split the vote” because voters have to select only one candidate.

When I ran for mayor in our most recent municipal election, this concern came up repeatedly. While I didn’t let it sway my decision to run, it is a narrative that can be hard to shake.

On the other hand, ranked choice voting, according to the nonpartisan group FairVote, reduces the penalty for candidates of the same race or ethnicity to run against each other in a race. Studies show that RCV has benefited Blacks, Latinos and women, whether candidates or voters. In fact, instead of dividing community support, Black candidates who run against other Black candidates in ranked choice elections are more likely to win. Voters of color also benefit because they can support like-minded candidates without the concern that their votes will take away from their second or third choice and help elect the candidate they like least.

Ranked choice voting could also change our entire political landscape for the better by reducing toxic politics on both sides of the aisle. Under RCV, candidates do better when they run more positive campaigns focused on issues that matter most to voters. Instead of using divisive language and relying on nasty attacks, the system encourages nominees to campaign on ideas, reach beyond their political base, and refrain from personal attacks that may turn voters off and deny them second and third choice votes that could be crucial for ultimately winning the election.

Opponents like to scare voters by saying that RCV is confusing and more complicated than our current system, but voters deserve more credit. We rank things in our everyday lives. And in 2020, five Democratic state parties used ranked choice ballots for the presidential primaries: Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming for all voters, and Nevada for early voters. In each case, voters showed a high level of understanding of the ballots with no significant errors.

We live in one of the most polarized political climates in generations. If we want to create a better democracy, something’s got to give. RCV won’t solve every problem, but it’s an important piece of the solution.

Kam Buckner is the state representative for the 26th District.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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