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Ranked choice voting system: how does it work and could it prevent runoffs in the future?

Posted at 11:25 PM, Apr 05, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — A runoff mayoral election is likely for Colorado Springs and Denver since no candidate has reached a majority of the vote. The Colorado Springs City Clerk's Office said the city will spend $500,000 on the runoff election in May while Denver will spend around $1.1 million on its own.

This has brought discussion of how to avoid runoff elections and if a ranked choice voting system could be the answer.

The group Ranked Choice Voting for Colorado called for the system on the steps of the state's capitol Wednesday afternoon. Linda Templin, the executive director of the group, said the election system fosters quick results and would save cities money by preventing runoffs.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, works by voters ranking each candidate on the ballot. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote after results are in, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who chose that candidate get their second choice counted. This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority.

Chuck Broerman, former El Paso County Clerk and now the El Paso County Treasurer, said sometimes, even with a ranked-choice voting system, a majority is never reached. Research from the Maine Heritage Policy Center shows after examining 96 ranked-choice voting races across the country where several rounds of tabulation were needed, the eventual winner received a majority of votes 61% of the time.

Broerman said the system itself is too confusing for voters and would cause low voter turnout.

"In sports we look at the scoreboard and we see that the winning team won by one more point than the other. And likewise, I think in our politics, we like to keep it basic and simple," he said.

Whether a runoff is avoided or not, Templin said the ranked-choice voting system encourages voters to rank candidates based on issues and not on the person. When voters have more than one option, she said it causes candidates to campaign with a different strategy and avoid mudslinging.

"As a candidate, you would say, well, rank me number one, because I care about these issues. But consider ranking this other candidate number two, because they care about similar issues," she said.

Another issue discussed with ranked choice voting: its cost. Broerman said between buying the software needed to tabulate votes and educating the public on the new system, it would not be worth it. Templin said the cost of the license for the software is around $70,000 each election cycle, which can be split between each city in the state that has implemented the system.

Broerman also said the addition of a new and unfamiliar election system, such as ranked-choice voting, could further worsen election integrity in our state.

Right now in Colorado six municipalities have or will soon implement ranked choice voting systems. Basalt, Carbondale, and Telluride all use the system while Broomfield and Boulder will begin using ranked-choice voting in November. Fort Collins will implement the system in 2025.

Voters in Aspen decided to use ranked-choice voting in 2007, but have since voted to return to its original runoff election system.
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