BOHANON & CUROTT: Ranked voting: Should Indiana consider it?

Economic Analysis: Cecil Bohanon & Nick CurottOne hallmark of a free and democratic society is that citizens elect their leaders. The specific voting process, of course, varies over time and across jurisdictions. It is also subject to modification.

One voting reform that is gaining some traction is ranked-choice voting. According to the Fair Vote—an organization that advocates ranked voting—“As of May 2021, 21 jurisdictions used ranked voting in their most recent elections, and 52 jurisdictions are projected to use ranked voting in upcoming elections.” Notably, New York City’s most recent Democratic mayoral primary used ranked voting.

Suppose Larry, Curly and Moe are the three candidates for mayor of Stoogeville. Under a ranked-voting system, voters rank candidates: first choice, second choice and so on. Ballots are secret.

Bohanon ranks Moe as his first choice, Larry as second, and Curly third; while Curott ranks Curly first, Larry second and Moe third. Only first-ranked choices count for the initial tally, so Bohanon’s ballot counts for Moe, Curott’s for Curly. With 100 voters in Stoogeville, suppose the first-round results are Moe, 35; Larry, 34; and Curly, 31.

As no candidate received a 50% majority, the rules of ranked voting mandate a second tally where the lowest-vote-getting candidate, Curly, is eliminated. The voters who ranked the dropped candidate, Curly, as their first choice now have their second preferences counted for the second tally. Curly is eliminated, so Curott’s vote goes for Larry, while Bohanon’s still counts for Moe. Either Larry or Moe will obtain a majority in round two.

The advantage of ranked voting is that it prevents candidates who are strongly disliked by a majority of voters from winning. Let’s say charismatic Moe is strongly supported by 35 voters, but strongly despised by the other 65 so that Moe is the third choice for all Curly and Larry voters. Under conventional plurality voting, Moe could win, but he will never win under ranked voting.

Of course, one man’s treasure is another’s trash: The objection to ranked voting is that it keeps a “shake-up-the system” radical from ever winning office. What if those who rank Moe third are not that adamant in their preference? Perhaps it is not so bad that Moe’s ardent supporters get their man elected via conventional plurality voting.

Designing good voting procedures is crucial to well-functioning democracy. Rank voting is an interesting option. Should Hoosiers consider it? You decide.•

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Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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