RANKED-CHOICE voting, which allows voters to list candidates in order of preference rather than vote for just one, has seen a surge in use in recent years. Last year, the number of jurisdictions acting to adopt this form of voting more than doubled as officials came to recognize its advantages in better reflecting the will of voters. Maryland and Virginia now have a chance to join the movement, with legislation pending in both states.
Legislation in Virginia would permit localities to move to ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, in elections for boards of supervisors and city councils. In Maryland, bills have been introduced that would allow Montgomery County and Baltimore to use ranked-choice voting in elections for county and city offices.
Similar legislation failed in previous legislative sessions in both states, but supporters think there may be a better chance this year because of the increased interest that resulted from last year’s midterm elections. Maine used the method in its senate and congressional races, a national first that attracted widespread attention. Just as impactful is the negative example provided by the experience in Montgomery County, where crowded fields in the Democratic primary for county executive and County Council allowed candidates to win with a very small percentage of the vote.
Under ranked-choice voting, a candidate must garner more than 50 percent of the vote and the winner is decided in an instant runoff that eliminates candidates based on votes they tallied as the second, third or even fourth choice of voters. Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), a sponsor of the Virginia bill, said ranked-choice voting is the antidote to “strategic voting,” whereby voters skip over candidates whom they might favor because they don’t think they have a chance of winning. Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), one of the sponsors of Maryland’s legislation, said ranked-choice voting is “simple and intuitive,” likening it to other decisions people make every day when their first choice is unavailable.
The pending bills do not mandate a switch to ranked-choice voting but allow the localities to decide. We urge Maryland and Virginia lawmakers to allow this to happen.