Ranked choice voting, a key democracy reform, taking root in Maine and Iowa, introduced in New Hampshire

Excerpt from The Hill 3/6/2019

The Democratic party now prides itself on championing democracy reform (see article below). Settling for potentially tens of thousands of wasted votes in the first-in-the-nation primary would justifiably warrant accusations of hypocrisy.

Luckily, as with many flaws in our democracy, the solution is both simple and easily implementable: ranked choice voting (RCV).

RCV in the presidential primary would allow voters to rank candidates in preferential order. If one or more candidates fail to reach the delegate threshold, their votes would be reassigned—starting with the lowest vote-getting candidate—according to voters’ subsequent preferences. This process would continue until each remaining candidate has surpassed the delegate threshold. With that, there would be virtually no wasted votes.

Ranked choice voting in the presidential primary is an idea whose time has come. In Iowa, the state Democratic party has included the use of ranked choice voting for up to five candidates in its proposed enhancement of the caucus system. A similar legislative effort is underway in Maine. Just last week, Maine Senate President Troy Jackson introduced LD 1083 to give voters the ability to rank their choices in both the presidential primary and the general election in 2020.

And in New Hampshire, a presidential primary RCV bill may soon be introduced in the State Senate. Earlier this year, NH State Representative Ellen Read introduced a separate RCV bill that generated noticeable public support in the House, but did not garner enough votes to pass.

Ultimately, there is still time to adopt ranked choice voting for the 2020 presidential primaries. But the clock is ticking. The Democratic Party should therefore signal to state lawmakers and party leaders that RCV would be welcome. Likewise, presidential candidates could bring much-needed attention to the idea by publicly supporting it.

Reforming the presidential primary will not be easy. But Americans should not settle for a broken primary process. Our democratic values are too essential to compromise.

Adam Eichen is Equal Citizens Communications Strategist. Eichen is also a member of the Democracy Matters board of directors and a fellow at the Small Planet Institute. He is the co-author, with Frances Moore Lappé, of the new book, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want. He served as the deputy communications director for Democracy Spring. Follow him on Twitter: @AdamEichen


A crowded 2020 presidential primary field calls for ranked choice voting, The Hill

With dozens of Democrats lining up to run for President in 2020, now is the time to adopt ranked choice voting in early states to guarantee that primary winners have clear majority support. Greater choices for voters is welcome, but crowded primaries can produce “winners” with less than 25 percent of the vote. Meantime, millions of Democratic voters could fail to elect any delegates at all because their candidate falls below the 15 percent qualifying threshold. Someone could easily win the nomination over the expressed opposition of most primary voters.

Consider the 2016 Republican primaries, which featured more than a dozen credible candidates. With provocative rhetoric making him the favorite of a passionate minority, Donald Trump captured the nomination despite falling short of a majority in the first 40 primaries and caucuses and polls indicating he would have lost in most early contests in head-to-head races against opponents like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Next year’s Democratic race presents the same fractured dynamics. Moreover, Democrats require states to allocate delegates in proportion to the vote, so that a candidate winning a state with 33 percent of the vote takes about a third of the delegates, not all. This “fair reflection” principle makes more votes count. But winning the nomination on the first convention ballot requires a candidate to arrive with more than half the delegates; otherwise, super-delegates have an equal say in deciding a brokered convention. Democrats will need as much fine-grained information as possible about what their voters really want.

Current voting rules can also turn the goal of a “fair reflection” into a distorted funhouse mirror. To earn delegates, a candidate must exceed 15 percent of votes; all others are shut out. In caucus states like Iowa, backers of candidates below this threshold can move to a backup second choice to make their vote count. But “single choice voting” allows no backups. With a crowded field, more than half the vote easily could be cast for candidates below the threshold; it’s even possible that no candidate would qualify for delegates in some states. Expect finger-pointing among like-minded voters splitting the vote, tied to factors like shared ethnicity (African American Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris), ideology (progressive Sens. Elizabeth WarrenSherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders), and experience (several mayors may run).

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is the best way to allow greater voter choice without wasted votes and unrepresentative winners.  RCV was used successfully last year in Maine’s congressional election and has been adopted for elections in 22 American cities and counties and the national legislatures in Australia and Ireland and for most party leader elections in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

New Hampshire and other states should pass laws to enable voters to rank their presidential choices first, second and so on. To reveal the state’s majority winner, voters’ first choices are tallied. The last-place candidate is defeated, and ballots for that candidate count for their next ranked choice. When down to instant runoff between the strongest two candidates, the winner always earns a majority of the vote. Democrats could allocate delegates fairly based on vote totals at the point when all remaining candidates exceeded 15 percent of votes. Caucus states are even easier, as it only means changing party rules and choosing among relatively inexpensive ballot-tallying options.

RCV works for all parties. It will help any party gain stronger nominees and provide more clarity about what voters really want going into conventions. Because voters’ backup choices matter, candidates with RCV tend to run more positive campaigns, seek common ground, and respect their opponents’ supporters. That means primaries will see less of the divisive rhetoric that can weaken nominees in the general election.

RCV’s experience statewide in Maine and in several of our most diverse cities demonstrates it engages new voters and invigorates democracy. Last June, more San Francisco voters cast RCV ballots for mayor than in the non-RCV races for governor and Senate. In Maine, turnout increased, and voter error was minuscule. In its seven-way Democratic primary for governor, more than three times as many voters ranked at least six candidates as ranked one, debunking concerns that ranking candidates may be difficult or time-consuming.

With voters clearly ready to rank more than one candidate in what is shaping up to be a talented field, why weaken their vote by denying them that power? States and major parties have every reason to establish ranked choice voting around the nation as a key feature of the 2020 elections.

Raskin represents Maryland’s 8 th District. Richie is President and CEO of FairVote. Eichen is Advisor for EqualCitizens.US


DesMoines Register, Iowa

Beginning in 2020, Iowa Democrats would not need to show up in person to have their caucus votes count.

Democrats have a plan to allow people to “caucus virtually” in the week leading up to the main event on Feb. 3. State party chairman Troy Price called the proposed changes the “most significant” alterations to the Iowa caucuses since their inception in 1972.

“These changes will make the 2020 caucuses the most accessible, the most transparent, the most secure and the most successful caucuses ever,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

For years, critics have complained that the Iowa process makes it impossible for people who cannot show up on a particular night at a specific place — from night shift workers to people with health problems to those who care for young children — to make their voices heard. They have also complained that the process takes too long. Democrats believe their proposal addresses both of those concerns.

The state party received recommendations from a panel with the Democratic National Committee known as the Unity Reform Commission, and it has spent the last several months holding listening sessions about how best to implement those recommendations and mandates.

Price unveiled the party’s proposed changes in a draft plan Monday. There is a 30-day public comment period before the plan will have to be approved by the state’s central committee and the DNC. Price said he’s had good conversations with members of the DNC and Democrats around the state.

How would a ‘virtual caucus’ work? 

The plan to allow virtual caucusing is a major departure from the Iowa Democrats’ decades-old system. The current system requires people to physically stand with other caucus-goers who support the same candidate and then move during a “realignment” period.

If the changes are adopted, registered Democrats would be able to register with the party if they want to caucus virtually. Those who register to participate virtually would not be allowed to participate in the in-person precinct caucuses Feb. 3.

Virtual participants could choose to take part in one of six virtual caucuses on their phone or smart device, and they would submit a form ranking up to five of their preferred candidates. Real-time closed captioning and language translation services would also be available.

How would the realignment process work?

After Feb. 3, the results would be aggregated by congressional district and then support for each candidate would be tabulated.

As is currently the case, each candidate would need to gain the support of at least 15 percent of the voters to be considered viable. If a participant’s first choice is not viable, his or her second choice would be counted.

“We will continue that process until we have exhausted choices,” Price said.

Currently, all caucus attendees can change their preference during the realignment period, even if their candidate is viable. Beginning in 2020, participants in both the virtual and in-person caucuses would be locked into their choice if their candidate meets the viability threshold. Only those who support non-viable candidates would be allowed to realign.

Price said the changes to the realignment process are meant to shorten the amount of time it takes to caucus. He said his own experience in 2016 illustrates why the change is necessary.

“We had 880 people in our room, so it took a long time to get that number,” he said. “Then we had a 30-minute realignment window and then we had to recount the entire room. In the course of that, 300 people left. We know that, as part of this process, we need to figure out how to make things go quicker in the room.”

How would the results be calculated?

The virtual caucuses would happen independently of the in-person precinct caucuses and would not affect the allocation of delegates at the in-person caucuses, Price said.

Instead, the total virtual caucus results would count for 10 percent of the overall state delegate equivalents for each congressional district. That percentage would not change based on how many people participate virtually.

For example: If a congressional district has 250 state delegates for its district, it would now have an additional 25 delegates that would be awarded based on the result of the virtual caucus in that congressional district.

“An easy way for folks to conceptualize this would be to think we are now adding in essence, an additional county — the virtual caucus — in each of the four congressional districts,” Price said.

How would the results be reported?

The virtual caucus results would be reported separately on caucus night but at the same time as the in-person precinct caucus results.

Also new in 2020: The DNC will now require Iowa to release raw vote totals in addition to state delegate equivalents.

Iowa currently uses an arcane process for tallying support and reporting out results on caucus night as “delegate equivalents.” A delegate equivalent is the percentage of state convention delegates supporting a particular candidate.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton edged out Bernie Sanders by claiming 49.8 percent of state delegate equivalents, while Sanders claimed 49.6 percent of delegate equivalents.

Beginning in 2020, the party will release raw vote totals for the first alignment period and raw vote totals for the second alignment period as well as state delegate equivalents, Price said.

Delegates elected at the county, district and state levels in 2020 would be based on the state delegate equivalents each presidential campaign earns on caucus night, Price said.

What does this mean for presidential campaigns?

Price said the party would be able to tell campaigns who had already participated in the virtual caucuses, just as it is able to tell them who has voted in other elections with an absentee ballot. That would allow campaigns to focus their attention on other potential caucusgoers.

He said the changes would give campaigns an extra tool to help drive turnout.

“With the precinct caucuses still in existence, they’re still going to have to build out a traditional caucus campaign and … infrastructure in 1,679 precincts across the state,” he said. “But this will also ensure that, for their supporters who otherwise might not be able to attend for whatever reason, this will give them the opportunity to have their say, as well.”

House Democrats officially unveil their first bill in the majority: a sweeping anti-corruption proposal: Democrats will take up voting rights, campaign finance reform, and a lobbying crackdown — all in their first bill of the year. By 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi approaches the microphones to speak to journalists during the Democratic caucus vote on the speaker’s nomination on November 28, 2018.
 Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

House Democrats will unveil full details of their first bill in the new Congress on Friday —sweeping anti-corruption measures aimed at stamping out the influence of money in politics and expanding voting rights.

This is HR 1, the first thing House Democrats will tackle now that a new Congress has been sworn in. To be clear, this legislation has little to no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate or being signed by President Donald Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already bluntly stated, “That’s not going to go anywhere.”

But by making anti-corruption their No. 1 priority, House Democrats are throwing down the gauntlet for Republicans. A vast majority of Americans want to get the influence of money out of politics, and want Congress to pass laws to do so. New polling from the PAC End Citizens United found 82 percent of all voters and 84 percent of independents said they support a bill of reforms to tackle corruption.

Given how popular the issue is, and Trump’s multitude of scandals, it looks bad for Republicans to be the party opposing campaign finance reform — especially going into 2020.

“Our best friend in this debate is the public,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters recently. “We believe it will have great support.”

The issue is being spearheaded by Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform who has disavowed corporate PAC money for years. Sarbanes and other House Democrats have been working with progressive heavy hitters in the Senate including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose own wide-ranging anti-corruption Senate bill was recently introduced in the House by Sarbanes and progressive Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal. He is also working with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) to introduce a companion HR 1 bill in the Senate, which will likely not even be brought to the floor.

Sarbanes and Democrats know McConnell is refusing to work with them on their anti-corruption bill, and they believe it’s good politics for them.

“You could stamp on this thing, ‘McConnell rejected it,’ and it would immediately give it more credibility,” Sarbanes told reporters recently. “We built this not for McConnell…this was built for the public. He’s going to get knocked over by where the sentiment of the country is right now.”

What this anti-corruption bill aims to do

HR 1 will be formally introduced later today by Pelosi, Sarbanes, and chairs of the committees of jurisdiction for the bill: Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

The bill will make its way through their committees in the coming weeks; Sarbanes hopes to have a final floor vote done later this month or early February.

The bill covers three main planks: campaign finance reform, strengthening the government’s ethics laws, and expanding voting rights. Here’s the important part of each section.

Campaign finance

  • Public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under Sarbanes’s vision, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over. The maximum small donation that could be matched would be capped at $200. “If you give $100 to a candidate that’s meeting those requirements, then that candidate would get another $600 coming in behind them,” Sarbanes told Vox this summer. “The evidence and the modeling is that most candidates can do as well or better in terms of the dollars they raise if they step into this new system.”
  • Support for a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.
  • Passing the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.
  • Passing the Honest Ads Act, championed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Mark Warner (VA) and introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) in the House, which would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of money for political ads on their platforms and share how much money was spent.
  • Disclosing any political spending by government contractors and slowing the flow of foreign money into the elections by targeting shell companies.
  • Restructuring the Federal Election Commission to have five commissioners instead of the current four, in order to break political gridlock.
  • Prohibiting any coordination between candidates and Super PACs.


  • Requiring the president and vice president to disclose 10 years of his or her tax returns. Candidates for president and vice president must also do the same.
  • Stopping members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination cases.
  • Giving the Office of Government Ethics the power to do more oversight and enforcement and put in stricter lobbying registration requirements. These include more oversight into foreign agents by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
  • Creating a new ethical code for the US Supreme Court, ensuring all branches of government are impacted by the new law.

Voting rights

  • Creating new national automatic voter registration that asks voters to opt out, rather than opt in, ensuring more people will be signed up to vote. Early voting, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration would also be promoted.
  • Making Election Day a holiday for federal employees and encouraging private sector businesses to do the same, requiring poll workers to provide a week’s notice if poll sites are changed, and making colleges and universities a voter registration agency (in addition to the DMV, etc), among other updates.
  • Ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections and prohibiting voter roll purging. The bill would stop the use of non-forwardable mail being used as a way to remove voters from rolls.
  • Beefing up elections security, including requiring the director of national intelligence to do regular checks on foreign threats.
  • Recruiting and training more poll workers ahead of the 2020 election to cut down on long lines at the polls.

HR 1 is intended to be a large package, but Sarbanes said in addition to passing it as the first bill, members will likely break out pieces of it into smaller bills that individually could get bipartisan support from Republicans in the Senate — things including the Honest Ads Act and boosting election security.

“We’re seeing more political spending go to the internet and we have clear evidence that foreign actors tried to influence the election through the internet,” said Kilmer, the Democrat who introduced the Honest Ads Act in the House. “The last Congress, you saw a committee hearing grilling the Facebook CEO but [it] didn’t really do anything to fix the problem.”

Although Kilmer believes the Republican Senate should take HR 1 as a whole package, he’s glad to see individual elements being broken out.

“The combination of having some [bills] like that plus having a powerful push out of the gate the public responds to in a positive way creates political pressure for Republicans to get on board,” Sarbanes told Vox. “They are going to discover this sort of thing is popular back in their district.”

Democrats want to “walk the walk”

The anti-corruption reform effort is nothing new for Sarbanes, who stopped accepting PAC money seven years ago and once joined a frigid walk in zero-degree weather across part of New Hampshire to commemorate Doris “Granny D” Haddock, the late activist who trekked across the entire nation to make a point about campaign finance reform.

The influence of lobbying and money has been entrenched for years on both sides of the aisle, but Republicans especially have been in the news for it. Vox’s Tara Golshan and Dylan Scott noted a total of four House Republicans who were embroiled in corruption scandals before the midterms — two, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, were reelected despite those scandals.

But even though they have a good foil in House Republicans, Sarbanes has long said his party needs to undergo a serious reckoning of its own.

“Walk the walk, and we’ve got to walk it quick,” he told Vox. “A lot of [voters] don’t believe it can happen because the system is rigged. That’s why when you come with a plan for that, too, it sort of caffeinates everything else. It makes them feel like, okay, now you’re talking.”

“It’s not until you come here and begin to serve that you understand how woven it is into the fabric of how Washington operates,” Sarbanes continued. The Congress member compared his own refusal of PAC money to putting on “night-vision goggles that have you then see how money flows everywhere here.”

Democrats know they don’t actually have a shot of passing HR 1 through the Senate, or getting it past the president’s desk. But they recognize they need to get serious about the issue, even if Republicans won’t.

“To say to the public, from this point forward, if you give the gavel to lawmakers who are interested in being accountable to you, this is the kind of change you can expect to see,” Sarbanes said. “If you like this, give us a gavel in the Senate and give us a pen in the White House.”

Expect to hear this argument well into 2020.