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Commentary: Ranked-choice voting means more voices, choices for South Carolinians

Nicole Sanchez

Nicole Sanchez is the president of Better Ballot SC.

I’ll be at the Statehouse on Monday rallying for a much-needed upgrade to our democracy.

Our political system can be frustrating, and it often leaves many South Carolinians wondering why they even cast a ballot. What if we could change that to something that could encourage candidates to be more civil and to better represent their constituents? Something that could streamline voting, saving time and money? Something that could give us more voice and more choice?

There is something that could do this. Instant-runoff voting (aka ranked-choice voting) allows you to fully articulate how you feel about your candidates on the ballot. You would be able to rank as many or as few candidates as you want. That ranking allows voters to express the nuances of their views rather than forcing them to support a single candidate.

Instant-runoff voting also gives voters more choice. Since you’re ranking your candidates, there’s no longer a danger of similar candidates splitting the vote between them. This is particularly problematic in the primaries, where similar candidates can split the vote and allow a less popular candidate to win. Likewise, independents and third-party candidates would no longer act as spoilers. Remember George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot? The elimination of strategic voting allows more candidates to run so you are more likely to find a candidate who aligns with your values. More competition leads to better candidates and, in turn, better government.

That’s just the start of the benefits that South Carolinians could see.

Since you rank your candidates with instant-runoff voting, we would have the information necessary to conduct the runoff without a second trip to the polls, saving time and money. Additionally, even races that currently don’t require runoffs would produce elected officials who have secured a majority, not just a plurality — more votes than opponents, but less than 50% — of votes.

Many of our recent school board elections are prime examples of this, with the winner securing far less than 50% of the vote. These would be a thing of the past.

So, this raises the question: Does instant-runoff voting deliver? So far, it does. In 2021, the Virginia GOP used it in its primary to great effect. Using it allowed Republicans to select candidates with wide appeal, and they swept the state’s top offices for the first time in years. Alaska used it in 2022. This conservative state selected a nuanced bridge-builder, Democrat Mary Peltola, to the U.S. House and a Republican majority to the state legislature.

This election method is used by millions of people in the United States from Utah and Washington to Maine and New York. It’s also used in some of the most stable democracies in the world such as Australia and Scotland. Even South Carolina’s overseas military have the option to vote with a ranked ballot.

I think the rest of us should enjoy this upgrade to our voting system.

How does it work? You simply rank your candidates in the order that you prefer them. If someone secures more than 50% of the vote, that candidate wins. If not, then the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Those who voted for the eliminated candidate have their vote transferred to their next option. This process continues until a candidate breaches the 50% mark.

It’s time we work on improving our voting system. There is a simple way to give South Carolinians more voice and more choice. That’s why I’ll be at the Statehouse on Monday rallying for instant-runoff voting.

Nicole Sanchez is the president of Better Ballot SC. 

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