Bade: Evanston should vote yes on ranked-choice voting

Ben Bade, Op-Ed Contributor

Evanston voters will have the opportunity on Election Day to revolutionize the city’s electoral system and create a more representative, engaged and civil democracy. On the ballot will be a referendum for Evanston to adopt ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting in municipal elections.

Under a ranked-choice system, voters rank the candidates rather than select only their top candidate, which differs from the zero-sum game of the current plurality system.

Here’s how ranked-choice voting works: If a candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes — meaning more than half of voters selected them as their top choice — they immediately win the election. If no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated, and all voters who selected the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their votes redistributed to their second choice. This process continues until one of the candidates receives a majority of votes, winning the election.

With RCV, your voice is heard even if your first choice doesn’t get picked, ultimately allowing for a more representative government. You can vote for who you genuinely support without needing to vote for the most “electable” candidate or the “lesser of two evils.” We have all heard the calls to vote for the “strategic” candidate, or the candidate who has the best chance of victory, over our favorite person for the office. Voters would no longer have to choose between supporting their favorite candidate or the strategic one. If RCV is in place, people would vote for candidates they genuinely believe in.

Ranked-choice voting can also boost voter participation, especially among young people. According to a 2021 study by Juelich & Coll, voters under the age of 35 were more likely to participate in ranked-choice elections than in standard elections. The adoption of ranked-choice voting in the 2021 New York City election preceded the highest local election turnout in about 30 years. 

In Evanston, ranked-choice voting would eliminate primaries, since all candidates will be ranked on Election Day. Only about 25% of Evanston voters turned out to vote in the last municipal primary election — meaning only a small fraction of the population decided who made the general election ballot. By eliminating primaries, RCV makes our democracy more accessible and amplifies more people’s voices. And when voters feel like elections better reflect their preferences, more people will go to the polls.

Ranked-choice voting may also lead candidates to pursue more civil and respectful campaigns. For example, if another candidate led a brutal campaign against my favorite candidate, I would be less likely to rank that candidate as my second pick. More civil campaigning leads to a healthier and more productive public discourse, something we desperately need in the current state of our political ecosystem. 

As we head the polls over the next week, Evanston voters have the chance to make our democracy more civil, representative and effective. Ranked-choice voting is by no means a cure-all for our nation’s democratic woes, but it is an improvement we urgently need. When people have more confidence in government, things can only improve, and ranked-choice voting is a necessary step down this path.

Ben Bade is a Weinberg Senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. This article was written in collaboration with Reform for Illinois, a research and advocacy organization that has been involved in bringing ranked-choice voting to Evanston. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.