Municipalities across the country held elections last month, as they do every November. But even if you are in the minority of voters who actually participate in elections that don’t coincide with presidential or congressional contests, your civic duties might not be complete just yet.
In many jurisdictions, indecisive votes in November mean runoff elections in December. While runoffs are valuable, in that they avoid “spoiled” elections and help to ensure that winners are those most likely to have the support of a majority of voters, they also often lead to significant declines in turnout. Low turnout is especially likely in runoffs for down-ballot races, as voters are far more likely to return to the polls to participate in a runoff for mayor or governor than a runoff to elect the state insurance commissioner or a city comptroller, as Houston voters will do next week. The lack of attention to races like these is unfortunate, as many such offices come with considerable power.
Runoff elections are also expensive. In major cities, the cost to taxpayers of putting on a single city-wide runoff election can reach well into the millions It’s no wonder then, that a growing number of cities have looked to eliminate runoffs altogether (Jersey City, NJ is a recent example).
Fortunately, ranked choice voting (also known as "instant runoff voting") allows municipalities to enjoy the benefits of runoffs, while avoiding the costs. As cities like, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, ME have learned, allowing voters to rank the candidates in an election means that a winner with broad, majority support can be selected from a large field of candidates—and in the general election, when the greatest number of voters is likely to participate. Adoption of ranked choice voting presents cities and states with an opportunity to increase the power of voters and make wasteful runoff elections a thing of the past.