Now that Donald Trump has officially announced he’s running for the 2024 GOP nomination, if the Republican Party wants to avoid a repeat of 2016, when it had a crowded field of 10-plus candidates splintering the vote, the smartest thing the party could do is implement ranked-choice voting for its primaries.
Ranked-choice voting is a time-tested nonpartisan election reform that ensures election winners have majority support.
It can be used by parties for their primaries or in general elections or by families trying to decide where to go for dinner.
We tend to forget that we do not have a majority-vote requirement in America. We mostly have plurality first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections. Simply put, in a crowded field you can win and be considered a front-runner with only a small sliver of the vote. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. I call it sliverocracy.
Consider that in 2016 Ted Cruz “won” the Iowa caucuses with 27 percent of the vote in a field of 10 candidates. Only 186,000 of Iowa’s 615,000 GOP voters even voted in the caucuses, out of an overall Iowa population of 3.1 million. The story of the 2016 Iowa caucuses should have been one of severe voter apathy and that 73 percent of those who even turned out to vote wanted someone else, not one of a surprise Cruz victory (that shock, Trump immediately claimed was won fraudulently).
The 2016 New Hampshire primary had the same problem with vote splintering. Trump “won” with 35 percent of the vote in a field of nine candidates.
Sixty-five percent of voters in that primary wanted someone else. Yet, Trump declared victory and became the frontrunner since Cruz came in a distant third.
This vote-splintering pattern would continue until the field continually whittled down, but by then it was too late, and Trump had all but sewn up the nomination with a string of “wins” through Super Tuesday: 35 percent in New Hampshire, 32 percent in South Carolina, 45 percent in Nevada, 43 percent in Alabama, 33 percent in Arkansas, 39 percent in Georgia, 49 percent in Massachusetts, 39 percent in Tennessee, 33 percent in Vermont, 35 percent in Virginia … not a single one of which was a majority of the small amount of GOP voters that turned out to vote.
Overall, Trump won only 44 percent of the popular vote in the 2016 primaries. A majority of GOP voters wanted someone else. Ranked-choice voting would have allowed those voters to consolidate their will into a different candidate or if they did like Trump as a second choice, at least made sure he had a majority of support in the end.
If you are a Never Trump Republican, ranked-choice voting will ensure he doesn’t win in a splintered primary again. If you are a MAGA Republican that wants Trump to win again, ranked-choice voting will make sure that even if other MAGA’s run that Trump would be able to consolidate their votes if they don’t do well.
And finally, don’t take my word for it, take Abraham Lincoln’s. In a letter to Martin Morris dated March 26, 1843, Lincoln wrote the following about a local convention that was going to be held soon: “I think then it would be proper for your meeting to appoint 3 delegates, and to instruct them to go for someone as a first choice, someone else as a second, and perhaps someone as a third, and if in those instructions I were named as the first choice, it would gratify me very much.”
Perry Waag, a former Republican, is the author of “The Centrist Path Ahead” and an original co-founder of the nonpartisan Rank My Vote Florida.