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This is the first of a three-part series on the election reform policies supported by the Forward Party to bring more competition and better options to the ballot in local elections. In each post, we’ll explore the details of these reforms and how each could be applied in Maryland.

Building a new political party is a daunting task. Ask any of the thousands of Forward Party volunteers across the country and they'll tell you about the various barriers they have to overcome to achieve ballot access. These barriers aren't incidental; they're intentionally implemented to keep the two major parties in control. 

Despite the Democrats and Republicans instituting an electoral blockade, an election reform is gaining traction across the country: Ranked Choice Voting.

Before sorting through the nuts and bolts of Ranked Choice Voting, let's address why it's necessary. Polling shows that the share of the electorate identifying as independent is accelerating while the number of voters affiliating with either of the two major parties is plummeting. 

Gallup analyst Jeff Jones notes that younger voters are driving this trend due to their "disillusionment with the political system, U.S. institutions and the two parties, which are seen as ineffectual, too political and too extreme." 

If this is the case, then forming a new political party that rejects extreme positions and embraces innovation should be easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy. So what's the problem? 

One of the biggest issues that we frequently hear when talking to potential volunteers and donors is their concern about the spoiler-effect. Intuitively, if voters are fleeing the two major parties, then why would they be concerned with an emerging political party getting into the mix?

Even though more and more people don’t align with a party, they still reliably vote for the same party. They know exactly what they’re getting when they vote for the “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name. Not only do they align with one party over the other, they are increasingly despising the other party. Whether it's Donald Trump residing in the White House, Nancy Pelosi wielding the Speaker's gavel, or Guy Fieri serving as Mayor of Flavortown*, many voters are motivated not out of inspiration from one party, but rather are drawn to the ballot box out of fear of the other candidate.

Nearly every tweet from the @fwd_maryland account is met with an accusation that our mere existence will result in getting either Joe Biden or Donald Trump reelected (never mind the fact that the Forward Party has already stated we won't run a presidential candidate in 2024). All politics is overly nationalized, and every election is now viewed with unrealistic stakes as the two sides expect utopia if their candidate wins and anticipate a dystopian hellscape if the other one prevails. 

And this is how the two parties want it. It's much easier to appeal to a narrow portion of the electorate if all you have to do is mobilize your reliable voters to show up on election day. 

This is where Ranked Choice Voting enters the picture. It may seem like a wildly experimental concept, but the practice has been in place in Ireland and Australia for a century without corruption nor favoring one party over another. Not only has it existed in those countries, but it's been used in Maryland since 2007. Yep, you read that correctly. Takoma Park in Prince George's County, home to the election advocacy group FairVote, has used Ranked Choice Voting in its mayoral and city council elections since Rihanna first sang "Umbrella, ella, ella, aye…"**

Takoma Park's government website succinctly and coherently explains how voters rank the candidates:

You can rank candidates in order of preference: first choice, second choice, and so on. Ranking additional candidates will not affect your first choice. Your other choices are only considered if your first choice is eliminated.

To illustrate how voters in Flavortown would elect a mayor using Ranked Choice Voting, here is a sample ballot:

To rank candidates properly, only mark one candidate per column.

RCV All Candidates

You do not have to rank every candidate; feel free to rank as few as one choice.

RCV Some Candidates

It is exactly as simple as it sounds though that hasn't stopped some from claiming the process is too confusing to implement. To be fair, most of those opposing the practice are referring not so much to the actual voting process but rather the tabulation process. Here again is the instruction from the Takoma Park government website explaining how a winner is declared:

  • All first-choice votes are counted. If a candidate gets more than 50% of the votes, they win.
  • If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ballots for that candidate are counted for their next choice.
  • If there is still no candidate with a majority, the process repeats until a candidate has more than 50% of the remaining votes and is declared the winner.

How would Ranked Choice Voting be adopted in Maryland? There are two scenarios. 

The first is for the state legislature to pass a bill requiring all jurisdictions to implement the voting practice. Looking at that notion through a cynical lens may lead one to believe that this scenario is highly unlikely as that would require those lawmakers to modify the very system that elected them. 

The second possibility is for each jurisdiction to implement Ranked Choice Voting in local elections like Takoma Park has done. 

That approach may seem unnecessarily tedious, but Frederick is currently considering amending its city charter to include some version of Ranked Choice Voting. Other counties such as Prince George's and Howard are also exploring instituting RCV. 

If the question "why don't Maryland citizens create a referendum and bypass the legislature?" crosses your frontal lobe, the answer won't make you feel all warm and tingly inside your limbic cortex. To be blunt, we can't. Marylanders can veto a bill that passes the General Assembly, but we have no power to initiate legislation. Could the legislature restore this provision? Sure, but looking at that scenario through the cynical lens reveals a group of lawmakers seeing no incentive to relinquish control. 

In addition to Ranked Choice Voting, other reforms such as Star Voting are popular among advocates. As a state party, we are not preferential to any specific method but would rather see each jurisdiction implement some form of candidate ranking in future elections. 

In our current system, voters are discouraged from voting for the candidate who best represents their interests and instead are encouraged to cast a ballot for the candidate more likely to beat the guy who will bring utter devastation to our country and destroy our way of life.

With Ranked Choice Voting, voters won't worry about wasting votes. If we reform our elections, we'll have better choices and louder voices.

RCV Infographic

*Fact: Guy Fieri was never elected Mayor of Flavortown. He staged a coup in 2007 causing Flavortown’s residents to live under his authoritarian regime ever since.

**This also occurred in 2007 as did the first iPhone launch. It was a crazy time.

Bryan Mullins


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