We hear a lot about ranked-choice voting these days, and some people are uncertain about what it might mean for their vote.

I like to think of Fred’s Ice Cream as an example. Fred is tired of offering only vanilla and chocolate and thinks that he can increase sales by providing an additional choice. He provides a suggestion box and lets customers decide the new flavor.

After a time, he finds the following 18 votes: Peppermint stick received 6 votes, strawberry, 7, and moose tracks, 5. Strawberry is OK but pretty common, and Fred sees that 11 people wanted some other flavor than strawberry as their first choice.

Ranked-choice voting would solve Fred’s problem by having voters also provide a second and a third additional choice on their ballot if they so choose. When a flavor doesn’t get a majority, the flavor with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated (moose tracks) and the second choices of the moose tracks voters would be counted.

These five second-choice votes could split for peppermint stick (4) and some other flavor (1). That would give peppermint stick 10 of the 18 total votes and a majority. Or equally possible, another split might make strawberry the winner, or perhaps no flavor would yet have a majority. In that case the flavor with the least amount of votes would again be eliminated and those voter’s next choices reapportioned. The process continues until a flavor is chosen that would be acceptable to the most voters.

What could be fairer than that?

For more information about this method, used in 2013 to select Portland’s mayor, visit www.fairvotemaine.org.

Bill Williamson


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