I. In Focus This Week
An update on ranked choice voting
New resources, new legislation, new participants
By M. Mindy Moretti
Following every major election in the United States, there is always a flurry activity surrounding changing the voting system itself and 2017 has been no different so far.
In particular, ranked choice voting has been receiving an increased amount of attention.
Not only was ranked choice voting approved by the voters in 2016 for statewide usage in Maine and countywide usage in Benton County, Oregon, but legislation has been introduced in at least 19 states to utilize the alternative voting system.
Here is a quick look at ranked choice voting so far in 2017.
Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center
Lead by Gary Bartlett, former executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and George Gilbert, former director of elections Guilford County, North Carolina the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center provides a compilation of best practices and first-hand experiences from jurisdictions that have used ranked choice voting.
The project team sought to develop a content-rich site to create a single resource to share ideas, develop best practices, overcome hurdles, and deliver exceptional election administration.
In addition to the website, they have also produced a 26-page Compilation of Ranked Choice Voting Resources and Model Practices which is designed as a living document that will be updated on a regular basis.
Future topics include:
- optimal RCV ballot design for compatible voting equipment;
- best practices to address low literacy and low civic engagement;
- preventing voter fatigue;
- optical and character recognition testing;
- RCV case studies, past and present; and
- model RCV legislation.
In November 2016, Maine became the first state in the country to approve ranked choice voting statewide. Question 5, which voters approved 52.12 percent to 47.88 percent, will require all state-related elections — governor, state senator and representative, and U.S. senators and representatives—be decided by ranked choice vote. It will not affect presidential elections or local elections.
In February the state Senate voted 24 to 10 to ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to review the legality of Question 5. Senators questioned whether a move to ranked choice voting was constitutional in Maine.
On April 13, the state’s high court heard arguments on the new law and although they have yet to rule according to news reports, the justices did appear skeptical of the constitutionality of ranked choice voting in Maine.
Benton County, Oregon
While Maine certainly garnered most of the ranked choice attention on November 8, residents of Benton County, Oregon also voted to approve conducting local elections by ranked choice. Residents approved the measure 54.18 percent to 45.82 percent with almost 7,000 undervotes.
Under the approved measure, Benton County residents will rank candidates for local races, which include county commissioner and sheriff. Per the language in the measure, the implementation date of the ranking system is a bit fluid, although anticipated to be in 2018.
In order for the clerk’s office to move forward, the county must approve an ordinance allowing for the implementation of ranked choice voting and the clerk’s office must receive $200,000 in funding for the implementation.
James Morales, Benton County clerk is currently working on the details of implementation as best he can without the allotment of funds.
“The $200,000 request for funding from the State of Oregon was sent to our State Legislator and one of the chief proponents of the Measure 2-100 State Representative, Dan Rayfield,” Morales said. “To date Representative Rayfield has informed Benton County that the end of the 2017 Oregon Legislative session is when he will seek the funds for RCV implementation in Benton County.”
Morales said his office has made the secretary of state’s office aware that there may be a need for certification testing of the county’s vote tabulation system to accommodate ranked choice voting returns.
On the voter education front, Morales said his office plans to produce public service announcements, offer public demonstrations with the voting equipment and printed materials available to voters for each election.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which dedicated its March edition of The Canvas to the topic of ranked choice voting, at least 19 states introduced some form of ranked-choice voting legislation in 2017. Those states include: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
On Thursday May 10, NCSL will be hosting a webinar, Primaries and Beyond, which will focus on primary runoff elections, why states use them and what’s changed over the years. Participants will also hear about the ins and outs of ranked choice voting and explore the legislative angle.
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