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Letter on ranked-choice voting wins Golden Pen for November

Voting booths

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, with the votes of everyone who supported the last-place finisher reallocated to their second choice. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The idea of letting voters rank their choices in order to avoid a return trip to the polls for a runoff vote has been used mostly in primary elections. But this year, 10 jurisdictions around the country used this voting method in the general election.

Leslie Skardon's Nov. 18 letter on how using ranked-choice voting might have changed the outcomes of Charleston County School Board races is the winner of the November Golden Pen award.

Ms. Skardon noted that Charleston County is politically moderate if not slightly Democratic but five of the nine members of the Charleston County School Board elected in November were candidates endorsed by the controversial and conservative Moms for Liberty.

"I believe that ranked-choice voting could have avoided this result," she wrote. "Instant-runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, eliminating the ‘third-party spoiler' effect we witnessed as more than 30 candidates vied for nine school board seats."

Of course, requiring a runoff in the general election when no candidate receives a majority would accomplish the same thing, but ranked-choice would eliminate the need for the actual runoff. 

She argued that this could have yielded a different result in District 7, which includes blue-leaning parts of West Ashley. Four candidates ran: three progressives and one endorsed by Moms For Liberty, Leah Whatley.

Whatley won with 32.5%. That means that 67.5% of the district did not vote for her.

"Ranked-choice voting could have allowed voters to rank the four candidates in order of preference, with the votes of everyone who supported the last-place finisher reallocated to their second choice," Ms. Skardon wrote. "This process repeats itself until one candidate passes 50%. I believe that, at least in District 7, this voting method likely would have yielded a different outcome, one that represented the majority of voters."

This year’s midterms saw this voting system used in many cities as well as Alaska and Maine, all with the end result of better voter representation, she noted.

The Golden Pen is awarded monthly. Winners also are invited to an annual luncheon with the newspaper’s editorial staff.