The official student newspaper of Oak Park and River Forest High School

The Trapeze

The official student newspaper of Oak Park and River Forest High School

The Trapeze

The official student newspaper of Oak Park and River Forest High School

The Trapeze

Ranked choice gives new voting option

It’s spring 2020. You’re a Democratic voter. There’s one problem overwhelming your mind–and it’s not just you. Every Democrat in America is reckoning with the same confounding question: Who will they choose to run against Trump and win? Does Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris have a shot? Is Bernie too liberal? Play it safe with Joe Biden? But perhaps a better question would be, what if you didn’t have to choose?

Currently, our election system requires voters to choose only one candidate. With ranked choice, voters can list voters in order of preference.

Ranked choice voting is beginning to be implemented in states like Alaska and Maine, as well as local governments like New York City, Seattle, Oakland and Evanston. In Oak Park, the Village Board is currently waiting for a state task force report on ranked-choice voting before deciding whether to put a referendum on the ballot.

Groups like the local chapters of League of Women Voters and FairVote Illinois, along with VOICE Oak Park, are already on board with ranked-choice voting, according to the Wednesday Journal.

They’re right. This is a crucial opportunity to instate a more representative democratic system that can serve as a powerful example for other communities.

So how does this work? Instead of choosing a single candidate, voters can rank some or all candidates in order of preference. If no one gets a majority of the first-choice votes, the person with the least first-choice votes is eliminated, and those voters’ second-choice votes are counted instead. This process is repeated until a candidate reaches 50%. It’s similar to the runoff system used in Georgia and other states but without the additional election. And it is much needed.

A recent study co-authored by Robb Willer of Stanford University found that 91% of Democrats believe that “many Americans are not yet ready to vote for a woman president.” They also found that that sometimes influenced their vote, even if their own preferred candidate was female. I have seen this same principle myself.

Kina Collins is a case in point. I worked on the congressional campaign to elect Collins, a young progressive woman of color challenging U.S. Rep Danny Davis, an 82-year-old Democratic incumbent who has held the office since 1997. At least once a voter told me they weren’t sure they’d support her in the primary, because “What would happen if an unfamiliar name was on the general ballot, and then she lost?” a rather improbable scenario given that no Republican candidate was even running. Our current election system is democracy by doubt.

This “electability” skepticism generates a decidedly uneven playing field in local, state and federal elections. It’s also self-reinforcing: If I don’t think you’ll vote for her, I’m not going to vote for her; if I don’t vote for her, you won’t think she stands a chance.

But we can choose to break this cycle. Ranked-choice voting provides a boost to women, candidates of color, third party candidates such as those from the Green Party, who are often vilified for “splitting the vote,” and those challenging incumbents. In short, voters can select who they believe in, not believe will win. If the majority believes in your preferred candidate, they will be put in office. But even if your preferred candidate is eliminated, your voice is still heard, and your vote does not “go to waste.”

While selecting more diverse and representative candidates may be the biggest impact at the local level, ranked-choice voting would also save considerable money and time if implemented at large scale. Imagine: Candidates only have to campaign once. Organizations only have to get out the vote once. The government only has to run an election once. You only need to go to the polls once.

But if we want to get ranked choice in state and federal elections, we need to plant the seeds of this effective system in as many local governments as possible. I believe that right here in Oak Park we have the potential to grow into this critical role model. If you agree, and are currently a registered voter in Oak Park, please join me in signing FairVote Oak Park’s petition at the Dole branch of the Oak Park Library on Saturday, March 16 at 1 p.m. If you are not yet eligible to vote, I urge you to write to the Oak Park Board in support of the referendum proposal. Their email is [email protected]. Your message doesn’t have to be long or complicated. Just express that you are in support of a system where voters’ preferences are heard. Once it’s on the ballot, encourage your parents and voting-age siblings and friends to vote for it.

Remember, Oak Park and River Forest High School students 18 years old by Nov. 5 can vote this cycle, while younger Huskies will enter the voting arena soon. Ranked choice can help us elect young leaders who truly represent our generation’s values and demographics. If you, too, want to replace our democracy by doubt with democracy by desire, I hope you will take action with me today.

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