Election 2016

Spoiling the 'Spoiler' Effect and Making Elections Better with Ranked Choice Voting. (New Reason Podcast)


As political pundits who missed the Donald Trump phenomenon grapple with Hillary Clinton's loss in the presidential election, some have lashed out at third-party voters, whom they blame for costing Clinton victories in the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

Putting aside the problems with this argument—the most obvious of which is that voters who picked Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party's Jill Stein weren't guaranteed to unanimously break for Clinton had they been deprived of another choice—the "spoiler effect" is one that regularly plagues third parties in American elections. Voters often feel compelled to choose the "lesser of two evils," a phrase never more apt than in this year when Americans disliked both Clinton and Trump at record-high levels.

But what if a simple change to the way we vote allowed Americans to vote their conscience and choose the lesser of two evils? And what if this change could improve the quality of the candidates and elevate the level of discourse?

Our guest on today's episode of the Reason Podcast argues just that.

Richard Woodbury is the chair of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. Ranked choice voting, wherein voters are allowed to rank candidates from best to worst rather than voting for only one just passed in the state of Maine by voter ballot initiative, making it the first state to adopt this electoral reform. Woodbury served as an Independent in the Maine House and Senate for five terms, during which he introduced ranked choice voting legislation, though it never passed during his tenure. By trade, he's an economist who works for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

On today's episode, Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller spoke with Woodbury about the mechanics of ranked choice voting, how and why it passed in Maine, why third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein endorsed the ballot measure, and how wider implementation of such a reform could transform American politics for the better.

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NEXT: Trump Derangement Syndrome, a Libertarian Response to Aleppo, Will 2017 Be Better? Reason Podcast

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  1. They’ll just hunt up another excuse. The “major” party people whinging about this are not arguing in good faith.

  2. To get these typical complaints out of the way “one person, one vote” and “that’s too complicated, elections should be simple.”

    I don’t endorse either view, but they’ll be said, so they might as well be in the first comments.

    1. “that’s too complicated, elections should be simple.”

      Proggies want the simplest elections of all-zero/one choice.

  3. You crazy kids and your new fangled election thingies.

  4. If we care about voters actually being able to express political preferences with their votes, cumulative voting is a superior method of expressing preferences. Ranked choice still has the inherent limitations of the plurality vote at its limit condition.

    1. Eh, it still leads to weird game theory stuff, rather than just using a simple candidate rating system.

  5. Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff threw away the election. There are plenty of postmortems out explaining how she turned her back on the Rust Belt states and gave Trump the election.

    The 2018 elections are going to be a bloodbath for the Democrats if they keep chasing boogie men to explain this loss.

    1. She would have won though if the Russians hadn’t set up that email server in her bathroom and diverted her flight every time she tried to visit Wisconsin.

      1. That makes more fucking sense than anything I am seeing of Facebook.

    2. Literally, if they don’t check their hysteria before some of them attempt a no-shit coup.

  6. Given the scope and spoils of the current government, it’s going to be very difficult to make any significant changes to voting schemes at the federal level (and most state/local levels). It’s all going to be a “what’s in it for me” bargaining process.

    Example – voting rights for people who have been convicted of a felony. There is an interesting debate to be had there on a conceptual level. Functionally though, it’s going to boil down to “who are they going to vote for” and the power brokers will stake out their positions from there.

  7. Three words: Arrow Impossibility Theorem.

    All else is a convex combination of sophistry and stupidity.

    1. As far as I could get in that was kind of interesting, but boy, if ever anything needed a “tl,dr”…


    1. Did you take it in the knee?

  9. Stop trying to make things worse with these chicken-shit “solutions”. Nobody has ever improved upon pistols at 20 paces.

  10. But one of the measures for reducing both the spoiler problem and the state-establishment-of-parties problem, where all the candidates regardless of party run in 1 election, and then there’s a runoff between the top 2, draws plenty of jeers around here.

    1. Because we’ve seen how that ends up in states like California: you get to choose between two Dems.

  11. This idea is a scam like bitcoin – appeals to people who get a kick out of thinking they’re smart enough to know that everyone else is not smart enough to understand how it works.

    1. Assumption: Value is subjective.

      Question: Why do you think bitcoin is a scam?

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