Cast vote for ranked choice

By Eric Fried
Published March 30th 2009 in Fort Collins Coloradoan
Fort Collins municipal elections use plurality voting; the candidate with the most votes wins. This was a cutting-edge system when it was first introduced - in the 18th century! With plurality voting:

> Candidates can win with less than half of the votes cast.

> Less than half of eligible voters usually vote.

> Votes get split between candidates with similar views.

> Voters sometimes vote for a likely winner instead of their preferred candidate.

In the current city election, two council races have three candidates each. Other candidates either chose not to run or withdrew candidacies, partly to avoid splitting the vote and helping elect someone they don't support.

Of the 24 municipal elections since 1997, 10 have had three or more candidates. In six of the 10, the winner had less than half the final vote. In 1999, Ray Martinez was elected mayor in a six-way race with only 29 percent of the vote!

Luckily, there's a better way. Ranked choice voting (also called instant runoff voting) leads to better elections and more representative outcomes:

> The candidate most preferred by more than 50 percent of voters is elected.

> More people vote because it's more likely there's a candidate who shares their views.

> Debate on issues is broader and more civil because candidates want high rankings from voters who don't rank them first.

> More people run for office because they don't have to worry about being a "spoiler."

How does ranked voting work? You mark your ballot for your top choice and rank your other choices. In the first round, your top choice is tallied. If a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she wins. If no one achieves a majority, a runoff occurs instantly. The candidate with the fewest votes is removed, and the votes for that candidate are redistributed to the voters' second choices. (Other voters' top choices remain the same.) The process is repeated until one candidate has majority support.

Around the world, nations such as Australia, Ireland and Great Britain use ranked voting. In the United States, more and more cities, including Aspen, Basalt and Telluride in Colorado, Santa Fe, Memphis, Minneapolis, Sarasota, Fla., Ferndale, Mich., Hendersonville and Cary (N.C.), as well as students at more than 40 universities, use ranked voting or are currently implementing it. Denver is discussing it right now. College football's Heisman Trophy, American Idol and the Oscars use a similar method. Ranked voting is as American as apple pie, and voters prefer it when given the choice. It's why the League of Women Voters of Colorado endorses it as the best method.

We can have ranked voting here - but first we must amend the City Charter by either a citizens' initiative or a City Council referral to Fort Collins voters. We also need the proper election hardware and software in place at the city and county. A new state law passed last year (HB 1378), sponsored by state Rep. John Kefalas cleared away any legal obstacles to using ranked voting in local elections. Now it's up to us.

If you'd like to see a better, fairer, more representative election system in Fort Collins, please join our efforts. Spread the word, donate a few hours and contribute a few dollars by going to www.fortcollinsranked