Ranked-choice voting could guarantee that a candidate is elected by a majority

By LARRY LESSIG  |  December 19, 2019

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In theory, in a democracy, the majority wins. In reality, in America’s democracy, that’s not always so. The winner of an election in most of America is not necessarily the person supported by a majority. The winner is the one who gets the most votes.

Consider the recent Democratic primary in Massachusetts’ Third Congressional District. Six candidates ran to be the nominee. The winner won with just 21.7 percent of the vote, and went on to win the general election with more than 60 percent of the vote. But in the primary, no one can say whether that nominee was supported by a majority of Democrats. All we know is that almost 80 percent cast their vote for someone else.

One way to fix this problem is to implement the system used in Maine and in many democracies around the world — ranked-choice voting or RCV. That system lets voters rank the candidates. If their first choice doesn’t win, then their second-choice vote is counted. If their second choice doesn’t win, the third-choice vote is counted — and so on. The process continues until one candidate receives a majority of the votes. That candidate is the winner — and the one supported by a majority of voters.