How Consistent-life Advocacy Would Benefit from Ranked-Choice Voting
by Rachel MacNair
If there’s anything outside the purview of the Consistent Life Network, it’s the process we use for voting in government elections. Therefore, as with all posts with individual authors, this is my opinion, nothing official from the organization. The Consistent Life Network doesn’t endorse specific candidates or voting strategies.
What is RCV?
Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) means that instead of voting for one person, you rank the candidates. It could be limited to ranking a top three to five candidates, or ranking all candidates. But your ballot could look something like this:
Those who want the intricacies of how the instant run-off is done can visit this FairVote site. But the point from the voter’s end is: if your first choice doesn’t make it, your second choice counts; if your second choice doesn’t make it, your third choice counts.
RCV is currently being used in the U.S. state of Maine, and in several U.S. cities, and within various professional organizations. It will be used in some of the Democratic primaries in 2020, and Ballotpedia shows several U.S. states have citizens gathering signatures to put it on the ballot. It’s used to select Oscar winners.
So why would that matter to us?
When I’m making a pitch in peace-movement venues, I point out that RCV solves the “lesser evil” problem. You have a candidate who’s awful, warmongering, wants to increase military spending, “modernize” nuclear weapons – but you have to vote for that candidate because the other candidate is even worse.
With ranked-choice, you can vote for a good peace candidate you actually like as your first choice, perhaps another as your second choice, and then wait until your third of three choices to concede that you want the warmongering but less objectionable candidate rather than the more objectionable one. You haven’t “wasted” your vote, nor thrown the election to the worse candidate. You haven’t been compelled to simply endorse a warmongering candidate.
This can work for single-issue pro-life voters as well. Many of the candidates who aren’t as bad as their opponents on abortion are nevertheless not very good. They know how to say the right words to get votes, but they’re not sincere. These candidates don’t really have a clear understanding of the violence involved, and don’t desire to get that understanding. They’ll vote as desired on bills when they come up, but they won’t make them come up. And they may feel that tax policy is more important.
But while the pro-lifers will vote for them, just imagine we have a re-established “Right to Life Party” (with which Ellen McCormack ran for president in 1980; it disbanded in 2003). Then if you’re a single-issue pro-life voter, you can communicate what you really want before giving a lower-rank vote to the candidate that’s more likely to win.
Consistent lifers, of course, have always had the conundrum that the last-ranked, likely-to-win candidates for the pro-peace and the pro-life candidates tend to be opposing candidates (in the U.S. and several other countries). The few consistent-life candidates we can find to vote for are in lower offices – or outside the major parties for the higher offices.
Example of the problem
So let’s take as an example the 2020 U.S. election for president. The same principles apply in all years, all countries, and all offices, but I have specific names for this one.
I know of two consistent-life candidates running for U.S. president in 2020:
Mark Charles, running as an independent
Brian T. Carroll, nominee of the American Solidarity Party
How many people reading this have heard of either of these two, outside the things we’ve written about them?
Large portions of our readership won’t vote for either one next year, even if they like them better than the candidate they do vote for, because they won’t “waste their vote” by not giving that vote to one of the candidates likely to actually win.
Those that do defy the logic of the lesser evil will have to do a lot of defying. Friends and family and co-workers will constantly pressure them: they must vote for one of the top two. To do otherwise, they insist, would be irresponsible.
RCV to the rescue!
It won’t be to the rescue in 2020, of course, but here’s the illustration of what happens when RCV is put in place:
The person to whom the consistent life ethic is the most important concern in considering who to vote for selects one of the two above candidates for their first choice, and the other for their second choice. Then, if they have in mind voting for the less objectionable of the two candidates likely to win, they can do that as their bottom-ranked choice.
The danger of helping the worst candidate win by failing to vote for the next-to-worst candidate is gone, and the consistent-life voter still communicates what’s actually desired. The process is better for democracy.
Final question: might third-party or independent candidates actually win this way? It’s possible, since they’re getting the votes they’ve earned, instead of having them diverted to less desired but more prominent candidates. Really, it’s currently the only way it’s possible.
But even if they don’t win, if they get the votes of more people who want to vote for them, then we may find a lot more voters have strong concerns about nonviolence than we can know now. Currently, it’s being suppressed by the choose-between-only-two system.
And perhaps more consistent-life candidates would therefore be inspired to run.