Abdul-Hakim Shabazz: Here are a few post-election suggestions

Abdul-Hakim ShabazzNow that the election is over and we have divided government nationwide and Republicans control state government in Indiana, I’ve been thinking about a couple of changes to Indiana’s voting system. Eliminate straight-ticket voting and implement ranked-choice voting. Both would be a significant improvement over what we have now.

First, I have never been a fan of straight-ticket voting; at the very least, voters have the responsibility to go through the entire ballot and look at the candidates. They can still vote for all of one party, but they should at least have to see who is on the ballot.

I have been voting since 1992, and I have never voted straight ticket, albeit I did come close in 1994. But I still went through every candidate on the ballot. Indiana is one of only a handful of states that still have straight-ticket voting.

The argument for straight-ticket voting is that it allows voters to conveniently fill in just one box on the ballot to support all Democrats or all Republicans down the ballot. However, does this then force voters into a decision and make being fully informed about candidates before heading to the polls a moot point? I don’t think this helps our democracy.

Second is ranked-choice voting. This is actually rather intriguing. According to proponents, RCV has provided a way to improve voting and elections. RCV elections are more inclusive because they give voters an easy and meaningful way to express their candidate preferences.

Take Alaska, for example, which uses ranked-choice voting. Alaskans just re-elected Republican Lisa Murkowski to the U.S. Senate and sent Mary Peltola, a Democrat, to Congress. Both are moderate candidates, and they beat Trump supporters (which is an added benefit in itself).

The way RCV works is actually pretty simple. According to the Campaign Legal Center, RCV is a process that allows voters to rank candidates for a particular office in order of preference. For example, consider a race where four candidates—A, B, C and D—are running for a single seat, such as governor. In an election using RCV, voters rank the candidates 1-4, with the candidate ranked as “1” being the voter’s highest preference. If a candidate is the first choice of more than half the voters, that candidate wins the election. But if no candidate gets the majority of the vote, the candidate with the least amount of support is eliminated, the second-choice votes for that eliminated candidate are redistributed, and this process continues until a candidate wins more than half the vote.

The process is the same in multi-winner elections, such as at-large city council races. The primary difference is that the threshold percentage of votes needed to win a seat is less than 50% because more seats are up for election.

Ranked-choice voting is currently used in more than 11 cities in seven states.

And there are several reported benefits. RCV increases voter participation, saves time and money, avoids the “spoiler effect,” reduces negative campaigning and provides more equitable representation. It also eliminates the need for partisan primaries.

Now, I’ve covered and written about politics long enough to know that the odds of eliminating straight-ticket voting and implementing ranked-choice voting are about as likely as my becoming president of the local Black Lives Matter movement. But at the end of the day, it’s a discussion worth having. And who knows, we might be better for it.•


Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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