Biss introduces ranked-choice voting bill


Daily file photo by Matham Alzayer

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) speaks at a town hall in January. Biss introduced a bill that would create a rank-based voting system for several offices in Illinois.

Billy Kobin, Reporter

A bill introduced by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) earlier this month would set up a ranked-choice voting system for state elections.

The bill, which Biss introduced Feb. 1, would amend the state election code to have ranked-choice voting in elections for the following positions: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, secretary of state, treasurer and General Assembly member.

According to the bill, voting would proceed in rounds, with voters ranking candidates and the last-place candidate being eliminated after each round. When two candidates remain, the candidate with the higher vote total would win.

The bill is part of an effort across several states to introduce some form of ranked-choice voting in elections. Maine voters approved a referendum in November that sets up ranked-choice voting for congressional and state races.

This year, 23 bills that would set up some form of ranked-choice voting have already been introduced in 16 states, according to FairVote, a nonpartisan and non-profit organization that advocates for nationwide electoral reform.

Biss could not be reached for comment regarding the bill.

Numerous states and cities already have ranked-choice voting systems on various levels and for specific circumstances, such as giving overseas and military voters the right to ranked-choice voting. If a general election required a runoff election, military and overseas voters would have little time to send in a second ballot, so using ranked-choice voting allows those voters to only have to vote once, according to FairVote.

Ranked-choice voting has some history in Illinois. In Springfield, military and overseas voters have used a ranked-choice voting system for municipal runoff elections since 2011. While serving as an Illinois state senator, President Barack Obama introduced a ranked-choice voting bill for statewide and congressional primaries in 2002.

The system gives citizens the opportunity to vote for a candidate of their choice, regardless of how strong of a chance the candidate may have, and alleviates the “wasted vote concern,” said Jay Young, political director for Common Cause Illinois, a nonpartisan watchdog group that promotes open and accountable government.

Young said a ranked-choice voting system gives minority voters more of a chance to nominate candidates who look like them and appeal to them. Candidates also have to reach out to a broader segment of voters in a ranked-choice system, he said.

“You have to make sure you’re not only trying to pick up your voters, but you want to maybe pick up somebody’s second choice or third choice as well,” Young said, adding the system could “tone down some of the rhetoric that tends to come with hyper-partisan” elections currently.

Young said although Common Cause Illinois has not looked too closely at the bill, the organization is usually in favor of voting reform measures that help voters interact with candidates and make candidates more accountable to voters.

“We think it’s always valuable to have a conversation on voting reform,” he said. “It’s something worth exploring.”

The bill currently sits in the Senate Executive Committee.

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