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Should NH adopt ranked-choice voting?

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ranked-choice voting
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You walk into the voting booth with a conundrum on your mind: the electoral field is crowded and your first-choice candidate might not win. You worry that by voting for your first-choice candidate, you will help split the vote and your least favorite candidate will benefit. This year, New Hampshire legislators are considering a switch to ranked-choice voting to help address this issue.

In fact, the New Hampshire Legislature is considering three different pieces of legislation that would institute ranked-choice voting in one form or another.

What exactly is ranked-choice voting?

In ranked-choice voting, voters get to rank their candidates in order of preference. In other words, you can say who your first-choice candidate would be, followed by the next best candidate, and so on down the list. If a candidate receives more than half of the first-choice votes in the election, that candidate wins—exactly as they would in any other election. If there’s no majority winner (for instance, if the first-choice winner would only represent 43% of the total votes) then the race is decided by an "instant runoff." Whichever candidate has the fewest votes is eliminated; voters who had chosen that candidate as their first choice have their second choice counted instead. This process goes on until a winner representing more than half of the vote emerges.

Efforts to bring ranked-choice voting to NH

This year, there are three different bills that would bring some form of ranked-choice voting to NH: CACR 22, HB 1264, and HB 1482. Each one is a bit different, so let’s summarize all three.

CACR 22 is a constitutional amendment. In other words, this legislation would actually add ranked-choice voting to the New Hampshire Constitution (you can learn more about how state constitutional amendments work here). If passed, all elections in the state would be conducted using ranked-choice voting. The exact procedure would be decided by the Legislature.

HB 1264 would enable ranked-choice voting only for state party primary elections and municipal elections. State parties and municipalities wouldn’t be forced to make the change but would be given the choice to opt-in.

HB 1482 would establish ranked-choice voting for all federal and state offices in New Hampshire by 2027. Political parties and municipalities could also opt-in to ranked-choice voting starting in 2023.

So, if you like the idea of ranked-choice voting, you have several bills you could talk to your elected officials about supporting. If you think all elections in the state should be decided by ranked-choice voting, and that this should be enshrined in the state constitution, check out CACR 22. If you want state parties and municipalities to have the option of implementing this form of voting, read up on HB 1264. And if you like the idea of ranked-choice voting for federal and state offices in New Hampshire without changing the constitution, HB 1482 would do just that.

Ranked-choice voting in other states

A lot of folks are justifiably hesitant to make changes to how we vote. You might be wondering if the idea has been tried in other states. In fact, our neighbor to the north, Maine, adopted ranked-choice voting for all state and federal primary elections and all general elections for Congress beginning in 2018. This was extended to apply to the general election for president beginning in 2020 and presidential primary elections beginning in 2024.

Alaska will also use ranked-choice voting for all statewide and federal elections starting this November. Other states and municipalities have rolled out more limited ranked-choice voting.

A needed improvement

Those in favor of ranked-choice voting say it is more democratic than standard voting. It allows voters to be more specific about their choices at the ballot box. It makes sure that, if your vote can’t help your first-choice candidate win, it can at least count toward your next choice. It also helps prevent situations where an election winner doesn’t represent the desires of the majority of voters.

The potential impact of ranked-choice voting is often clearest in primary elections, when there are many candidates vying for just one nomination. Consider the 2018 primary in the 1st congressional district. Chris Pappas won the Democratic race with just 42% of the vote, followed by Maura Sullivan (30%), Mindi Messmer (10%), and eight other candidates. The same year Eddie Edwards won the Republican primary in the 1st district with just 48% of the vote, followed by five other candidates. Would Pappas and Edwards still be the nominees after ranked-choice voting, or would we have a different congressperson? Since we don’t know voters’ second-choices from 2018, we’ll never know if most voters were happy with the final nominees.

If it ain’t broke...

Others argue that voting in New Hampshire is among our longest-held and most-hallowed traditions and we should therefore be reticent to change it. While traditional voting isn’t perfect, it is simpler, which means it is easier for voters to understand. The 2020 elections showed that when voters are confused about an election process, or the process isn’t transparent, voters can lose faith in the results. Ranked-choice voting can be hard to understand, which might lead voters to mistrust the process.

Implementing ranked-choice voting would also be expensive. Counting the ballots either requires a special computer system or a labor-intensive hand count. The Secretary of State estimates it would take a few million dollars to upgrade voting machines, plus an unknown amount for training, to implement ranked-choice voting statewide.

Make your voice heard

Do you have an opinion on this issue? Let your legislators hear from you! Remember, there are three unique bills on this subject. All three bills will have a vote before the full House of Representatives in the coming weeks. Consider contacting your elected officials to let them know where you stand. You can get started by seeing who represents you on our website, here.

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