A 2024 Case For Rank Choice Voting

At first glance I’m going deep into the weeds today. After you read this, I think you will find that I’m just being practical. Perhaps a bit visonary, but practical. Tuesday Robert Kennedy, Jr. announced his Veep pick. It really doesn’t matter in that she has about as good a chance of becoming Vice President as I do and I’m not running. The reason she was picked has nothing to do with electability; it has everything to do with money and ballot access.

Kennedy cannot possible be elected in 2024. That is not the reason people are running him. And yes, my verbiage is 100% accurate! He is being run to syphon enough votes away from Joe Biden in enough battleground states to make Donald Trump the winner of enough Electoral College votes. Arguably the biggest challenge a third-party candidate faces is ballot access in enough states. In this case the goal is not winning – not for the Kennedy backers via Kennedy anyway – the goal is to get Trump elected. Getting Kennedy on the ballot in states that will go red or blue by a wide margin is irrelevant to Kennedy’s financial backers. They only really care about the handful of battleground states that will ultimately determine the outcome.

For example, New York (the state I was born in) is irrelevant to them; it will go to Biden by a wide margin. However, North Carolina, where I currently reside and will vote in 2024, is a major target for them. While Trump has to be favored it is by the narrowest of margins, if Kennedy can siphon enough votes away from Biden it makes North Carolina and its 16 electoral votes secure in Trump’s column.

2016 was an election where both candidates had net negative approval ratings. The biggest complaint we hear from voters going into the 2024 contest is that they don’t like either option. My fear, which is widely shared on the political left, is that enough voters will either stay home or cast their ballot for a third party candidate to throw the election to Trump who they didn’t want in the first place. It would be a situation where good intentions produced an undesired outcome. Enter rank choice voting.

Under a rank choice voting system – which, with some guardrails that I won’t get into today, I’m increasingly becoming a fan of – the voter selects their first, second and third (or more) choices. If a candidate fails to get a majority the lowest candidate is dropped and their votes go to their supporters’ second choice. The process goes on like this until a candidate reaches majority status.

To use my mythical 2024 scenario, I am assuming that most Kennedy voters didn’t like Biden or Trump but would make Biden their second choice because they really didn’t want Trump. Now a vote for Kennedy is neither a throw away or unintended consequences vote. It is also a system that encourages voter turnout (which is terrible in America), is inherently more democratic and diminishes the power of parties.

Under the current system the two parties almost have a lock on ballot access. For a non-Democrat or non-Republican candidate to get on enough state ballots to be viable nationally is a huge task. Ballot access requirements vary from state to state but the two things they have in common is that they are expensive and labor intensive.

I’ll get generational for a bit. 2024 will be my 14th presidential election. Four of my grandchildren will be eligible to vote; one of them for the first time. I’m closing in on my last; they are beginning, in fact 2028 will be the first for the fifth grandchild. I’m still someone who likes the two party system (even though I see its flaws). Typical of their generation my grandchildren dislike or hate parties. They are the future and rank choice voting (coupled with some ballot access reforms) lessen the stranglehold of parties on the system.

Rank choice voting would also change the way candidates campaign. They wouldn’t “write off” certain places and people as much as they sought not just to win the first but also the second slot. (The reality is that few races would have more than three somewhat viable contestants.)

OK, before I conclude I have to loop back to why Kennedy made the choice he did. He chose an extremely wealthy woman who now can make basically unlimited contributing to their campaign. In other words, she can pay for the very expensive ballot access project. Trump’s people, like their master, love to do things with OP money. She certainly wasn’t chosen for the votes she can garner in her home state of California! Biden will win it by a country mile.

These changes will not happen in time for November but we need to start working on them. 2024 is a good illustration of why.

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