Ranked-Choice Voting

Dear <subscriber>,

Over the last four decades, Context Institute has been focused on encouraging cultural change toward a humane and sustainable future – both through our own direct programs and by celebrating the work of others. In this issue of CI News, I’d like to highlight an interesting example of the latter.

Ranked-Choice Voting

Last week voters in Maine approved (54% to 46%) the use of a voting system known as ranked-choice voting. This may not seem like a big deal, yet it could be part of a potent set of electoral reforms with a huge impact on US democracy.

I see this as a great example of a rising – but still early – trend. It’s a great case study in how cultural change happens and I encourage you to start noticing it so you can experience how it evolves over the next few years.

The organization FairVote has been an important player in moving these reforms forward. They have a great explanation of how ranked-choice voting works, including these two fun videos from Minnesota Public Radio:

To see how this particular reform fits into a bigger picture, I recommend looking at The Fair Representation Act, a bill that’s already been submitted and has sponsors in the US House of Representative. It won’t go anywhere in the current Congress but it could take off in a new Congress. The bill includes four interconnected reforms:

  1. ranked-choice voting for primaries and the general election
  2. multi-winner districts in states with more than 1 house seat
  3. drawing districts with independent redistricting commissions
  4. fair-representation voting rule instead of winner-take-all voting rule

While each of these reforms has value on its own, together as a system they are much more potent. For some of the research behind all of this, take a look at Comparative Structural Reform.

How does this work as a cultural-change case study? Here’s what I notice:

  • The US is a laggard, being one of the few countries to consistently use plurality-based winner-take-all voting systems that allow candidates with less than majority support to be elected. As an early democracy and then the world’s most powerful nation, it’s been insulated from keeping up. This is a phenomenon known in cultural history as “the lagging center.” Those of us who are willing to learn from the rest of the world have a lot of great examples of other voting systems with long track records to draw on.
  • FairVote was formed in 1992. It has taken patient work for 26 years to get to the adoption of ranked-choice voting by the first state. That’s the hard part of being a successful change agent – results often require persistence over long stretches of time when it seems like there are few people who understand the significance of what you are working on.
  • The first places to adopt ranked-choice voting were cities, with by now 11 major cities (San Francisco, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, etc.) using it in their elections. It’s easier to start at a smaller scale (like a city) and work up from there. Most of those cities adopted ranked-choice voting after 2004, so 12 years or more after FairVote began.
  • As you work on this kind of change, you never know when the larger social context will shift dramatically toward being open to your innovation. You do the long steady work and, if you’re wise, you also prepare for the rush. Large numbers of US voters now feel the current system is broken and with Maine giving credibility to ranked-choice voting at the state level, we may see a rush in the next few years.

Finally, I want to say that I don’t see ranked-choice voting or The Fair Representation Act as the be-all/end-all. But I do see them as useful and “digestible” steps that reflect a good systems understanding of the challenges involved in enabling more effective representation and elections.

Register now for July/August Bright Future Now

If you’d like to learn practical tools for helping to usher in the Planetary Era and collaborate with fellow change-makers from around the world, I invite you to join the upcoming 7-week online Bright Future Now course. Graduates say that by the end of the course they feel ready for anything – and more at ease within themselves in the midst of these tumultuous times.

The next course runs from July 7 to August 26. Registration is $400 and closes on June 23. Payment plans and financial aid are available.

In this time of upheaval, may you find the support you need to be the change you want to see.

With appreciation,
Robert Gilman
June 19, 2018

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