If you’re sick of campaign season and dread the thought of more elections, then you’re not alone. Georgia was recently thrust into the spotlight due to our newfound importance in the national electoral landscape. This means that hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the Peach State in the form of a constant onslaught of political campaign mailers, TV and radio ads, text messages, and those pesky door knockers.
Despite the November elections concluding, Georgians will receive no respite because now they have to deal with run-offs. To win an election in Georgia, candidates must receive the majority of the votes. In tight races when there are third party candidates, reaching this threshold can be a tall order. Failure to obtain a simple majority means that the top two vote-getters will run against each other in a run-off, which is hardly unprecedented—as is evident by the two Senatorial and one Public Service Commission (PSC) run-offs in January 2021. But there is an intriguing policy in some locales that relieve many voters from this hassle and much more: ranked-choice voting (RCV).
While there are different forms of RCV, it essentially boils down to this: In races with more than two contenders, constituents vote for candidates in order of preference. So, they list their first, second, third and even fourth choices if applicable. If no candidate garners a majority of the first-choice votes, then that triggers an instant run-off.
In this phase: “The candidate who did the worst is eliminated, and that candidate’s voters’ ballots are redistributed to their second-choice pick. In other words, if you ranked a losing candidate as your first choice, and the candidate is eliminated, then your vote still counts: it just moves to your second-choice candidate,” according to a Time Magazine entry. The beauty of the system is that it prevents traditional run-offs, and dozens of states use some flavor of RCV to a degree.
This process could be especially helpful in crowded primaries, which are a frequent occurrence in Georgia, or even in general elections – like the Senatorial and PSC races. It’s easy to see how it would work here too. Take U.S. Senator Perdue’s race for instance. No candidate received the majority of the votes. Rather, Republican Perdue currently sits at around 49.73 percent, Democrat Jon Ossoff at 47.95 percent and Libertarian Shane Hazel has 2.32 percent.
If Georgia had ranked-choice voting, then Hazel would have been eliminated, and his supporters’ votes would have been allotted to their second choice. Let’s say that the Libertarian second-choice votes were split evenly between Perdue and Ossoff. This would have meant that each remaining candidate would have received an additional 1.16 percent in the instant run-off—giving Perdue over 50 percent and the victory.
So, why is RCV even worth considering? According to its proponents, many reasons. For starters, administering elections is expensive, and taxpayers foot the bill. According to a 2017 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “the cost of election administration from 26 states is $8.10/per voter.”
If this estimate is remotely accurate, then Georgia’s upcoming run-offs could cost tens of millions of dollars. However, if Georgia had relied on an RCV paradigm for the general elections, then this money could have been saved because the instant run-off would have rendered a traditional run-off unnecessary. It also would have ended the national uncertainty over which party will control the Senate much earlier.
Beyond these matters, voters would no longer have to endure a near constant deluge of campaign propaganda for the extended periods of time between general elections and run-offs. And I believe I speak for most voters when I say we’re ready for a break from shallow campaign ads and petty political attacks, and in fact, RCV might lead to more civil elections.
In such a voting system, candidates are incentivized to not be as short-sighted or rely heavily on attack ads. Of course, they would naturally vie to be the top choice. However, in a contested and crowded field, they might have little hope of achieving the majority of the first-choice votes. In this case, candidates would strive to be palatable enough to garner the necessary second choice votes from their competitors’ supporters to secure victory. If they ran a race based on dubious attacks, then odds are that they would receive fewer second-choice votes and might lose the election as a result.
In the end, the case for an RCV model sounds compelling. It would save taxpayers money, liberate Georgians from the annoyance of run-off campaigns and perhaps even result in kinder elections. That doesn’t sound so bad.
Marc Hyden is the director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.