Ranked Choice Voting Could Change the Way Pennsylvanians Cast Ballots

By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas:
August 11, 2021 Updated: August 11, 2021

A Pennsylvania House Democrat has introduced a plan to change the state election code to require ranked choice voting in some Pennsylvania elections.

State Rep. Christopher Rabb’s legislation would include all local and county elections, such as mayor, township supervisor, county commissioner, magisterial district judge, and judge of the Court of Common Pleas, among other positions.

Federal and statewide elections such as president and vice president of the United States, U.S. Senator, and governor would still be decided through the current voting system.

“Our democracy is broken,” Rabb said in a memo introducing the bill. “Low voter turnout, increasing polarization, and legislative gridlock undermine our government and stem from an outdated electoral system that promotes unfair representation, limited voter choice, and skewed primary elections. Ranked choice voting, also known as instant run-offs, offers us a solution.”

Most of the United States, including Pennsylvania, uses the plurality voting method in which voters choose one candidate and the winner is the person with the most votes, even if the majority of voters did not cast a ballot for the winner.

For example, in the case of three candidates, winning “Candidate A” earned 100 votes while losing “Candidate B” received 90 votes and “Candidate C” received 80 votes. Together the losing candidates received 170 votes.

With the current plurality voting system, the most votes win, yet the majority of voters did not vote for the winner in this example.

Under ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of choice. The candidate with the fewest votes after the first count is removed from consideration. In this example, Candidate C was the lowest vote-getter and is no longer in the race. The second choice of voters who picked that losing candidate is then counted.

Let’s say 70 folks who voted for Candidate C listed Candidate B (who first received 90 votes) as their second choice, and the remaining 10 listed Candidate A (who originally had 100) as the second choice.

In this scenario, Candidate B wins with 160 votes compared to Candidate A’s 110 votes. Rabb’s legislation allows for write-in candidates to be part of the ranking system.

“Rank choice voting promotes majority support, discourages negative campaigning, provides more choices to voters, and encourages more reflective representation,” Rabb said in the memo, adding that Maine became the first state to use ranked choice voting in 2018.

The measure, H.B. 1775 was recently introduced in the House and referred to the Republican-led State Government Committee.

“This addresses low confidence from the electorate. It doesn’t benefit one party over another. It requires a simple majority,” Rabb told the Epoch Times. “In Philadelphia right now you can get elected without a simple majority. With rank choice voting, you have to campaign beyond your base.”

A candidate might say to a voter: if your candidate doesn’t win, can I get you on the second choice?

Ranked choice voting has the potential to elevate candidates who are able to connect well with voters from both major parties.

“It makes candidates have to hustle beyond the normal. You can’t ignore entire swaths of people,” Rabb said. “It lessens the impact of machine politics,” Rabb said. “Because it is not well known, there is a certain level of suspicion, but there is no partisan angle here.”

Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: