Op-Ed: Ranked-Choice Voting Can Restore Confidence in Our Election Process

David Goodman | December 9, 2019 | Opinion
It’s time to look at how we elect our state officials and give residents reason to hope politicians will pay more attention to them
David Goodman

“Nearly half of residents planning departure from New Jersey, citing property taxes and cost of living — not the weather” — GSI/FDU Poll (November 2019)

New Jersey is a mess! Pretty strong language given the high grades the state usually earns for amenities like the Jersey Shore, but the poll’s findings, undeniably, are a wakeup call.

It’s even more so when you dig into the numbers to find nearly 40% of young residents (18-29) plan to exit within five years. That’s our future!

Worse yet, the two issues driving people out — ever-rising property taxes and uncontrolled living costs — are not structural problems but require political solutions. For too many New Jersey residents, our elected leaders are failing to address these basic problems — the things, presumably, they were elected to do.

Take the current debate. First, the governor’s proposal for a millionaires tax as a remedy is rejected by legislative leaders. He, in turn, shoots down their calls for entitlement reforms.  There’s much back and forth but, in the end, nothing gets fixed. New Jersey’s political merry-go-round continues to spin, with Trenton too often closed to anybody but insiders and each side retreating to its base.

Who is left behind? According to this poll, it could be those younger residents who decide to pack their bags and take their skills and education, start families, pay their taxes, etc., elsewhere.

Maybe it’s time to look at how we elect these officials in the first place and give New Jersey residents, young and old alike, reason to hope politicians will more pay attention to them and less to their own turf.

We in Represent.Us, a national grassroots anti-corruption movement, believe it’s time for New Jersey to enact “ranked-choice voting.” RCV, for short, is not a parlor game for policy wonks or fantasy thinking, but a common-sense solution that makes elections represent us — the voters. And it’s working!

New York City, Maine taking lead

It’s now the election law in the state of Maine. Nearly 20 cities across America have adopted it.  This year, New York City became the largest municipality to approve RCV through its charter change — soon allowing 12 million Americans, overall, to participate in this format.

Yes, voting machines would have to be updated. Without minimizing the problem of New Jersey’s aging machines, including hacking and the absence of audit trails, replacing them to handle ranked-choice voting is a software fix. Contrary to its detractors, ranked-choice voting is not complicated or difficult to learn. Indeed, its benefits are evident and immediate.

First, RCV restores majority vote to win elections. Pluralities simply won’t do it. This can happen in the first round, like traditional elections, with 50% plus 1 and you’re done. But if not, instant run-off rounds kick in by eliminating the lowest-vote candidate and moving his or her votes to 2nd, 3rd, etc., candidates until a majority winner is declared. This also ends the “spoiler effect,” allowing voters to choose candidates they really like or want without fearing wasted votes — rather than the old “lesser of two evils.”

Best of all, RCV changes behavior for electioneering and running for office. Rather than trashing opponents with negative advertising, candidates and office-holders who know they will be “ranked” soon figure out they must appeal to a broader swath of the electorate to have a chance at victory. And if the voter and average citizen’s interests — the grassroots — become more important, there is less incentive to seek big donations from super PACs and “dark money” donors with hidden agendas.

With all these benefits, that may also say why defenders of the old system, clinging to their power, are so fierce in their opposition. Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), who has introduced New Jersey’s ranked-choice voting bill (A-5205), explains: “The point isn’t which party is helped at any time, but rather that the winner has a majority of support from the voters.”

We agree.

Assemblyman Zwicker’s bill currently has two co-sponsors — Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Middlesex) and Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). More need to be added. That’s where we come in.

Starting in January 2020, we are launching a campaign, “RCV for New Jersey.” Our goal is to make A-5205 the law in the Garden State for future general elections and primaries. Let’s follow the examples of Maine and New York City — and do this!

Yes, 2020 is a presidential election year and the heat and partisanship will be intense. But can there be a better time to start fixing New Jersey’s political mess — to give politicians of every stripe incentives to work for what the voters, not parties or special interests, want? And just maybe these voters will also find some good reasons not to leave New Jersey.

Will you join us?