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Hey, Oscars: Your Vote-Counting System Is Suddenly a Hot Trend in Political Elections

TheWrap Oscar magazine: Ranked-choice voting might seem complicated to Oscar voters, but six states will be using it in the Democratic primaries next year


This story about ranked-choice voting first appeared in the Actors/Directors/Screenwriters issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Back when I first started writing about the Oscars’ so-called preferential system of counting votes about a decade and a half ago, I would emphasize the relative rarity of the system by pointing out that its prime adherents outside the Academy were the New Zealand parliament and the San Francisco board of supervisors.

These days, though, the ranked-choice voting (RCV) method has quietly become one of the hottest balloting systems in the country. While some Academy voters and Oscar watchers have thrown up their hands and decided it’s too complicated to understand, voters in New York City figured it out well enough that they recently and overwhelmingly approved its use in primaries and special elections beginning in 2021.

“Ranked-choice voting is a smart, tested reform that would help New Yorkers elect candidates who have support from a majority of voters,” said a New York Times editorial.

Is the Academy, which has been using ranked-choice voting for about 80 years, ahead of the curve on this one? It certainly appears that way.

Maine, for example, voted to use RCV for governor, state legislature and U.S. congressional elections back in 2016, and now it’s one of 31 states that currently uses RCV in federal, state or local elections. In the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, the system will be used in Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas and Wyoming for all voters and Iowa and Nevada for absentee voters.

And in September, a dozen U.S. representatives introduced the Ranked Choice Voting Act, which, if passed, would require states to adopt RCV for congressional elections beginning in 2022.

Ranked-choice, in which a voter ranks the candidates in order of preference instead of choosing just one, can prevent third-party candidates from damaging frontrunners by letting their voters indicate a second choice. If the voter’s first choice is eliminated from contention, that ballot shifts to the candidate ranked second — which means that Ralph Nader likely wouldn’t have hurt Al Gore and Jill Stein wouldn’t have hurt Hillary Clinton, because most Nader votes probably would have gone to Gore rather than George W. Bush and most Stein votes to Clinton over Donald Trump. And recently ousted Republican governor Matt Bevin from Kentucky wouldn’t have narrowly lost to Democrat Andy Beshear if the 2% of voters who chose Libertarian candidate John Hicks preferred Bevin over Beshear.

Still, Republicans tend to oppose RCV more than Democrats; as RepresentWomen founder and executive director Cynthia Terrell pointed out at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in July, the system can help women and minorities score more seats in elections.

“Ranked-choice voting simply is a tool to uphold majority rule and give voters more freedom to support candidates they want and more opportunities for their voices to be heard,” Rob Richie, the CEO of FairVote, has written. “Sometimes it will help Democrats, sometimes it will help Republicans and sometimes it may help an independent or third-party candidate. But what it always does is help voters — they get greater choice and have a stronger voice and elect candidates who represent more voters, just as what one wants in a representative democracy.”

The Academy has good reasons for using RCV despite most of its members still professing to be ignorant of how it works. And the evidence also suggests that it’s time for members to stop being afraid of the system: If it’s good enough for voters in 31 states, it’s good enough for the Academy — which, after all, had it first.

To read more of the Actors/Directors/Screenwriters issue, click here.

Oscar Wrap Florence Pugh cover