We put this question to elected officials in MD and received a wide range of reactions. One thing was clear, though. Citizens, candidates, election officials, poll workers, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike were all struggling with one thing...legitimacy!
MD Forward Party Legislative Working Session
On January 4th, 2024, the Maryland Forward Party held a Legislative Working Session by invitation only with elected officials from across Maryland. Our goal was to understand the needs of elected officials currently occupying elected seats in local, county, and state government, and give them a chance to share their views and concerns with other elected officials, just like themselves. We wanted to find any overlaps, and opportunities to share knowledge and strategy on how to tackle common problems.
It was invite-only because we wanted to hear the opinions of those already dealing with the day-to-day minutiae of public service, and we wanted to preserve the anonymity of our Maryland neighbors. These were not “political operatives” or career politicians, but regular people who had already been selected by their neighbors to represent them in local government. They were real people who had chosen to take on the burden of trying to make the world around them better, one decision at a time.
Why It’s About Legitimacy In Our Elections
We had many fantastic conversations between these wonderful, caring individuals, and one of these was about Ranked Choice Voting. Several local governments in Maryland are considering rolling out RCV, or its variations like STAR Voting and Approval Voting. Some are working with advocacy organizations like https://rankthevote.us/ and https://fairvote.org/, while others are launching task forces to study the options. So naturally they wanted to know if this was worth the time and expense?! …and the results were mixed.
In the 2022 elections in Alaska, the citizens elected a Republican, a moderate, and a Democrat. One (Murkowski), though, had lost the backing of her party and would have been eliminated in a traditional primary, but held onto her seat because of RCV. All three, however, were incumbents. Was this a win for diversity of candidates, a win against party control, or exactly the same outcome as the past election? In truth it was all three.
Someone shared the story of the mayor of Takoma Park, MD, who went door to door and won using an RCV strategy of, “I may not be your first choice, but can I be your second choice?” Someone else shared a warning about a progressive Democratic district in Colorado that almost elected a Republican because of RCV. Others chimed in with stories where the outcomes were completely unaffected. The same people won, and the only difference was the vote counts.
Then one of our participants perfectly encapsulated the struggle and the feelings in the room in a way that now seems self-evident to us:
“We need to build greater confidence in the outcomes
[of our elections], even if those outcomes don’t change.”
Our current system of tabulating votes forces people to choose one option, and only one. We don’t know if people would have been happy with multiple options, but had to pick only one. We don’t know who had a clear first choice, but would have also been happy with a second or third choice. We don’t know how many people were vehemently opposed to a given candidate. We just don’t know, and our current system cannot tell us.
Another of our participants presented us with a challenge:
“When the election is done, I need to know that the winner
was approved by more than half of the voters.”
It is not good enough that the winner got more votes than the other candidates. After all, those people will now be subjected to the choices of that leader. It is not too much to ask of our voting system to know that each and every winner was approved by at least half the people.
This is why Ranked Choice Voting is worth the time and effort. Even if there is no change in the outcome of the election, what it does do is provide legitimacy – proof that the majority of the people in that district chose that outcome.
Maryland Forward Party Goal:
What do you think?
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