How Ranked Choice Voting Could Solve State Primary Caucus Issues

Collin Dwyer

Several state’s political parties still use caucusing to unify their party. Caucus goers filter candidates and narrow the field for the other states’ primaries and caucuses. However, caucuses are no longer the most efficient means of achieving consensus. Ranked Choice Voting, a ballot system that filters candidates in a similar manner, is a new—but well tested—method that would be a better option for state party’s primary election needs. It is far more inclusive, secure, and productive. 

Caucuses, historical remnants of 19th century America, have turned many state party elections into nightmares. During a caucus, if a voter’s first choice candidate does not have enough popular support (threshold varies by state), the caucus voter must change their vote to a viable candidate. Caucuses are designed to allow a party to unite behind a commonly accepted candidate; however, there are many issues with caucuses that have grown more problematic in recent years. 

Caucusing is inherently limited due to low voter turnout rates. The ratio of caucus voters to general voters is very low. The ratios in Nevada (8%:57%), Minnesota (8%:74%), and Kansas (5.5%:58%) are perfect examples. A very small portion of the population is steering the party, which is undemocratic. 

There are many reasons for lower voter turnout in caucuses. For instance, many working voters may not be able to caucus because they don’t have an entire weekday evening to spare. Night shift workers are even less likely to participate in the caucus process. When certain socio-economic classes disproportionately don’t participate, American democracy breaks down. Ultimately, through caucuses, a candidate who doesn’t represent the broader view of the party may be selected, which is contrary to the goal of the primary.

In addition, caucus voting counting allows everybody to see your vote, which is undemocratic unto itself in that it leads to inappropriate social pressure. Imagine your family or friends are attending the same caucus site as you. Would you feel uncomfortable voting for another candidate? What about your religious leader or boss? Would you feel pressured to agree with them? You would quite literally have to stand in a different grouping, where they could watch and/or pressure you. Ballot voting would allow voting independence, which is a foundation of true democracy.

This brings us to Ranked Choice Voting. RCV is a ballot voting system which asks each voter to rank candidates in order of preference. The first candidate on a voter’s ballot is counted as their vote for the first round. If a candidate has more than 50% of the vote they win. Otherwise, another round is tabulated using the same ballots. For the second round, the candidate with the least votes in the first round is eliminated. But this time, if the voter’s first choice was eliminated, their second choice will be tallied as their vote (the same is true for any time a voter’s choice is eliminated). Rounds repeat, and candidates are eliminated, until a candidate has more than 50% of a voting round.

While RCV is not widely known, over 20 cities use RCV in local elections, and 89% of voters polled in RCV cities in California reported they easily understood RCV. Voter turnout has proven to increase an average 10% with RCV, and those were polls taken when RCV replaced a plurality vote. This effect is further magnified when replacing caucuses, because caucuses have significantly lower voter turnout than plurality elections

Ranked Choice Voting perfectly embodies the values of American primaries. The heart  of our primary system calls on us to support a better vehicle for party unity and inclusion. Caucuses are archaic, difficult to audit, and time consuming. RCV is a more effective means of filtering candidates through greater voter turnout, while promoting consistency, inclusivity, and feasibility. Our society is evolving. Our political parties must also evolve to meet the needs of all constituents. Allowing caucusing to continue, because of historic traditions, is a failure, not just to those who caucusing excludes, but also the party as a whole that seeks to unite before the election. In fact, if RCV proves effective in the primary process, it could also serve as a way for Americans of viewpoints outside the party consensus to still have an impact in our general elections.

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