Residents of Evanston’s Eighth Ward heard a presentation on May 26 on ranked-choice voting, a system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference.
A proposal to shift Evanston to ranked-choice voting will be discussed in June in the City Council’s Rules Committee. The May 26 discussion was part of an online Eighth Ward meeting hosted by Council Member Devon Reid.
Larry Garfield, a board member for the nonprofit organization FairVote Illinois, which explains on its website how ranked-choice voting works in elections with several candidates.
If, when votes are counted, no candidate reaches the threshold needed to win, the candidate with the fewest votes would immediately be eliminated. Voters who had picked that candidate as their first choice would have their votes count for their second choice.
Candidates are continually eliminated, and their votes shifted, until one candidate has a majority of the ballots cast.
All this happens immediately, and ranked-choice voting thus serves as an “instant runoff,” Garfield said, adding that should the proposal go through, Evanston would be the first city in Illinois to have ranked-choice voting.
New York City moved to a ranked-choice voting system in primary and special elections last year. According to FairVote, 55 cities, counties and states will use RCV, as it’s called, as of next month.
Evanston’s election rules, Garfield added, can be “ugly bonkers.”
He noted that different offices often require different thresholds to win, so some offices are decided in a primary but voters must come back to decide others in a general election.
Other advantages to ranked-choice voting, according to Garfield, include wider participation in candidate selection, since fewer voters often show up for primaries determining the final candidate pool; lower election costs for candidates, who would have to run in fewer contests; and election winners more representative of the community as a whole, since they ultimately must appeal to a broad swath of voters instead of concentrating on key voting demographics.
Third-party and minority candidates might also benefit, Garfield said.
Reid, who said he was open to the objectives of ranked-choice voting, nevertheless asked whether the process in some constituencies favored moderate candidates and shut out progressive ones. Garfield said that it did indeed usually eliminate candidates on the extremes at each end of the political spectrum.
But Alisa Kaplan, Executive Director of Reform for Illinois, which is also pushing the ranked-choice effort in the state, said at the meeting that if progressive values did truly represent the community as a whole, that would be reflected in the vote counting.
Kaplan said that additional objections to ranked-choice voting usually came from party bosses as well as politicians uncomfortable with running elections in a newer manner. But Garfield noted that some incumbents reported appreciating the new system, since it allowed them to spend less time on campaigning and more time on governance.
Mayor Daniel Biss praised ranked-choice voting in his May 20 State of the City address. Should the proposal ultimately be accepted by the City Council, the matter would be put before voters in a referendum in the November general election and would begin in Evanston in 2025.