MEMPHIS, Ten. — Ranked choice voting gives voters the chance to vote for more than one candidate in an election. This system is becoming more popular for many elections.
“I think a lot of voters realize that they have limited choices, that sometimes it's a Coke versus Pepsi kind of thing, and they like more choice,” said Steven Mulroy, a professor of law at the University of Memphis.
Mulroy has studied ranked choice voting for decades and said more people are supporting this system because it’s more representative of who voters want to elect.
“Ranked choice voting is a voting system where rather than just voting for one person only, the voter is given the option if they want, to rank their preferences,” said Mulroy.
This may sound confusing, but here’s how it works: You rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election.
If there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an "instant runoff."
The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as number 1 will have their votes count for their next choice.
This process continues until two candidates remain, and the majority candidate wins.
Voters do not have to rank candidates if they don’t want to; they have the choice to vote for one person.
This system is being more widely used across the country. Maine and Alaska used it in the last presidential election, and nearly two dozen other states use ranked choice voting in local elections.
“It's used in both red states and blue states,” said Mulroy. “They don't tend to favor Democrats or Republicans. They tend to favor who has majority support. So, in a Democratic majority district, it'll tend to favor Democrats, and in a republican majority district. It'll tend to favor Republicans.
It also eliminates runoff elections—which usually have low voter turnout and cost counties more money
“You're one and done. You make sure you have a majority winner, but you do it all at once without the trouble and the expense of a separate runoff election,” said Mulroy.
From what he’s seen, it’s helped make the campaign season less negative. “It tends to elect candidates with consensus candidates with broad based support. It has not depressed minority representation. In fact, minority representation has increased where it has been used. Another thing is that ranked choice voting tends to result in more women being elected,” said Mulroy.
In Mulroy’s hometown of Memphis, the community voted to enact ranked choice voting three separate times. But, state and local election officials pushed back…and the system has never been implemented, now, in Tennessee, the state legislature is working to ban ranked choice voting altogether.
“A lot of times the opposition that you hear comes from incumbents. Because ranked choice voting makes elections more competitive. It levels the playing field between incumbents and challengers, and incumbents don't like that,” said Mulroy.
Memphis teacher Erika Sugarmon tried to challenge the incumbent party in her local city council election. “They call me the crusader, you know, because I'm always fighting for teachers, students and parents,” said Erika.
Voters in her district had approved ranked choice voting, but the system was never implemented.
She said, if it had been, the election would’ve gone differently. “Looking at the figures and looking at our backgrounds and looking at the way the voters voted, I would have won,” said Sugarmon.
She’s now part of a lawsuit to get ranked choice voting into her district, a move she says will make elections more representative of the community.
“It's not a Democratic issue or Republican issue. It's an issue about the voting system and working for all people, and we all want the same thing. We all want fair elections,” said Sugarmon.
Not everyone is in support of ranked choice voting. Opponents of this voting method say it can be confusing to voters, it can give too much power to smaller parties, and changing voting systems could be expensive. But, both sides hope voters educate themselves, no matter their view.