In the United States of America, citizens generally get one vote in a race, and whoever gets the most votes wins. It’s straightforward. But it’s one of the reasons we have a two party system with such a huge partisan divide and so much insanity in politics. But there is a better way. Ranked voting means you vote for multiple candidates in order of preference. There are many specific ways to determine the winner of such an election (the most famous of which seems to be Instant Runoff voting, which I don’t like compared to some others), but any of them are better than our simple “first past the post” system.
If we look at our current 2016 election, for instance, we have two very unpopular presidential candidates. I certainly don’t like either of them. I think several other candidates from the Democratic and Republican primaries would have been better, and I think several third party or independent candidates would be better as well. Many of them would have been more moderate, and had more bipartisan support. Many of them would have been more morally acceptable (as opposed to Donald Trump’s constant chauvinism, bigotry, lies, business history, etc, and to Hillary Clinton’s constant parade of scandals and evidence of corruption that stretches back decades). But here we are, about to elect a candidate that (regardless of who wins) will already be opposed by the majority of citizens. It’s a bad way.
Enter ranked voting. Ranked voting lets you vote for more than one candidate, putting them in order of preference. For instance, perhaps your favorite is independent Fridaynosaur, so you rank him first. Then you put Mikva, your favorite within the major party you prefer, second. Whale is the frontrunner of your party, and you’d rather see him win than someone from the other major party, so you put him third. Lawstritch is the most reasonable candidate from the other party, so you put him fourth. You don’t care much for General Twobabies, but at least he won’t be as bad as the Irked Worms, so you put him next. You could never in good concience vote for either of the Irked Worms, so you don’t even give them a rank. This lets you vote for candidates you actually like first, then the “lesser of two evils” later down.
To determine who wins, the simplest way is instant runoff voting. I don’t like instant runoff as much as more complicated methods, but it is easy to explain. In instant runoff, you check if any of the candidates got more than 50% of the vote with just the first rank votes. If not, you eliminate the candidate who had the fewest first rank votes, and all ballots who had that candidate in first place move to the second choice. If there is now a candidate who has over 50%, you have a winner! Otherwise, you eliminate the candidate with fewest votes again, also moving up the next choice on those ballots. Eventually someone wins, and it has the nice property that at least 50% of the population voted (for some rank or another) for that candidate! Some ways of determining the winner are called “Condorcet Methods”. In a condorcet method, if there is one candidate that would beat all other candidates in a two-way race (eg. candidate A has more higher ranked votes than candidate B), that candidate wins. I like that property.
There are some other voting methods as well, such as score voting (you give each candidate a score, like rating a candidate 0–5 stars for how much you approve), and approval rating (which is score voting but the score is either 0 or 1). Those would also be great. I don’t know which of all methods would be best — I just know that our system is basically the worst!
But, you may ask, how can this work for presidential elections? We have the electoral college, not a straight popular vote for president! Well, I think it could still work nicely. The electoral college could be switched to ranked voting. Then the states could have ranked elections whose result gives a ranked electoral ballot — the first winner in the state gets first rank, the runner up second, etc. Different states could use different ranked voting systems to determine their electoral voting rank, and it would be a great experiment into voting systems in practice, and which ones are preferable.
Just imagine, if we were using ranked voting we could still have candidates from both the Republican and Democratic primaries still in the race (Bernie Sanders could still win out Republicans who don’t like Hillary’s scandals, and Ted Cruz could win out Democrats who are afraid Trump will start World War 3). We could have multiple third party candidates get an honest representation in the vote, which would help shift the policies and priorities of other parties as well. If you, like me, disagree with both major parties on many issues, you could give your first rank vote to a candidate who better represents your views, and put lessers of evils further down the ballot. I firmly believe we would get more moderates elected, and see more candidates whose stances are less party dictated and more pick-and-choose-the-best of multiple parties. It would help stop extreme partisan gridlock, and give us fewer hard changes in governmental direction as power changes hands between Democrats and Republicans.
Here are some links to some nice videos about voting systems: