Ranked Choice Voting is the Answer to Gerrymandering


In order to truly solve the problem of gerrymandering we need to completely remove the concept of hard-lined “districts” from the equation, and give greater power to the “one-person one-vote” option. Right now there is legislation in the MA House and Senate that could provide this opportunity at the local level, and achieve municipal freedom from gerrymandering.

What is gerrymandering and how does it work? The problem is that in many states the Incumbent party’s power is stabilized by “pack-and-spread” gerrymandering. That’s when you do what you can to look at where the Opposition party is and you try to “pack” as many as possible of their voters in a few concentrated “districts.” This effectively hands the Opposition a guaranteed win in a few districts. Then comes the part where you “spread” the Opposition over the remaining districts to give weak victories to the Incumbent party. For example, an unpacked voting ratio might look like this in a 3 district state: Race1: 49-51, Race 2: 53-47, Race 3: 48-52. Where the races are tight and competitive, and it’s not clear for sure who will win. In a “pack-and-spread” gerrymandered race, the voting ratios would look more like this: Race1: 61-39, Race 2: 59-41, Race 3: 30-70. In this example, race 3 will virtually always be won by the opposition party, and the other two races almost always be won by the Incumbent party. In this extreme example, there’s about a 20-point swing that would need to happen for the Opposition party to win a second seat, even though BOTH PARTIES had 50% of the total vote if you add up all three districts. In reality, many states have been gerrymandered to have between an 5 and 11 point swing, which is still enormous when in most cases the Opposition and Incumbent parties are about evenly matched (plus or minus 1 to 2 points).

What is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)? If you haven’t heard about RCV, it’s a different way to vote that allows you to put more information about what candidates you like on the ballot. In races with more than 2 candidates, you can rank your choices with one “single-transferable-vote.” Suppose you are voting in the Opposition party primary, and there are 3 candidates. You like them all, but there’s one you like, one you like a lot, one you love. Now instead of just voting for the one you love, you also get to put in a “back-up vote.” Now, if your favorite candidate comes in last, your vote will automatically transfer to your second choice. It’s not only limited to one backup vote though, suppose there were 5 candidates running in a race, then you could rank all five in one run to the ballot, and there would be no need to have a runoff election between the top two, because Ranked Choice Voting allows for an instant runoff, because you’ve already indicated all your auxiliary preferences.

Where ranked choice voting makes an even bigger difference is in “multi-winner-races.” Get ready to have your mind blown. In a multi-winner race, not only does your vote transfer if your first choice doesn’t get enough votes, but also, if your first choice gets TOO MANY votes. This may sound crazy for a second, but hear me out. Suppose, we’ve got three candidates in a 2 winner race, and almost everybody votes for Candidate A, leaving only a few votes as the deciding factor between candidates B and C. So, the vote tally is 97-2-1. This would be crazy to say that 97% of the people only had a say in picking 1 candidate. To fix this problem, in multi-winner races there’s a quota. When there’s a 1 winner race, the quota is obvious, it’s 50% plus one vote, because no other candidate, could get more votes than you if you got 50% plus one vote. By definition, if the second choice candidate got all the remaining votes, then they still could only get 50% minus one vote, and lose. Fractions make this a bit easier, so let’s call it ½ (+1). Now, in a 2 winner race, the winners would need to have 1/3 (+1) votes (just over 33%), so, if both of the two winning candidates got 1/3 (+1), then if you add that up it’s 2/3 (+2), and that means the remaining candidates had a total of 1/3 (-2) which is fewer votes than any winning candidate. That may have been a bit technical, but it’s simple. All you need to take home are a few key points. Your vote is more likely to count than in a single winner race, since even in just a two winner race, 66%+ of the votes went towards winning candidates. In a 9 winner race that jumps to 90% of votes counting. In a single winner race, if your vote wasn’t for the winner, it technically didn’t count. That’s not to say that everyone’s a winner, not by a long shot, but that more people’s votes and opinions get included in deciding what candidates win.

So, how does Ranked Choice Voting Solve the gerrymandering problem? By completely removing districts from the equation, and implementing a multi-winner race where every voter gets one “single-transferable-vote.” In doing this we solve numerous problems with the current voting system, but today, I’m just going to focus on how it gets rid of gerrymandering. With one all encompassing multi-winner district, it’s impossible to “pack-and-spread” because there are no separate compartments. All the districts are lumped together in one big race. Continuing with the simplified example above using the same six candidates from before with three Opposition candidates, and three Incumbent party candidates, we would almost always see one Incumbent guaranteed a win, and one Opposition guaranteed a win, and one seat highly contested. Now, it’s not always gong to be the same candidate that’s guaranteed a win, but people that normally vote Opposition, will rank all the Opposition candidates 1, 2, and 3 and the Incumbent candidates 4, 5, and 6. Every voter would rank the candidates differently, but it means that only the BEST of BOTH parties would win, and that the candidate that wins the third seat, will most likely need some bipartisan support, this provides the essentials to having a functional government. Voila!

Don’t get too excited, Ranked-Choice-Voting is not a panacea for all the political maladies out there, but in terms of ensuring that an Incumbent party can’t effectively gerrymander there victory ad infitum and undermine democracy, it certainly makes a big step forward for society.

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