The results of the Nov. 7 local elections led to one clear conclusion — there needs to be a new way to conduct these elections, particularly in off-year municipal races. Just look at what happened in Charleston and North Charleston to see two differing reasons for the need to try something else.
In Charleston, the mayor’s race is headed to a runoff — again. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who won his seat in 2015 and in 2019 after runoffs, will face former GOP state Rep. William Cogswell on Nov. 21. They both nabbed about a third of the vote while four other candidates split the rest of the third.
Not only will this runoff be expensive, but it will require voters to get dragged back to the polls and cause people to have to endure two more weeks of campaign advertising. What if there were a better way so that everything could be wrapped up at once?
In North Charleston, voters don’t have to return to the polls because of the city’s odd election system. In most elections around the country, a winner is required to get 50% plus one vote — a simple majority — to win. But in North Charleston, whoever gets the most votes wins. This plurality system creates another problem — it means candidates can win a seat when the majority of voters in the district don’t want that candidate in the initial polling. Seems kind of backwards to put somebody in office who the majority don’t want. Again, is there a better way?
The answer is yes. Our municipalities — and voters — would benefit from what’s called “instant runoff voting,” a process used effectively all over the world to speed up the process of electing candidates and lower the pain-in-the-butt factor of runoffs.
Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, works like this: On election day, voters rank their choices for each candidate in a race. In other words, they choose candidates in the order that they prefer them. So if you really like Candidate A, you rank her first, but then you consider who you would rank second, third or fourth if Candidate A doesn’t win outright.
When election officials are counting the votes, they tally all votes for each candidate. If no one gets a majority, the candidate in last place is eliminated — and the bottom candidate’s votes are reassigned as ranked to the remaining candidates. Then votes are tallied again, and the process continues until one candidate wins a majority.
Such a system has huge advantages because it promotes civility and less mudslinging. If a candidate is really nasty, for example, it’s likely he or she would get passed over for a second or third ranking. The ranked voting process also is shown to generate real conversations and bridge-building. And it saves money and time.
Fortunately, there’s a bill in the Statehouse (H. 4022) that would allow municipalities to adopt instant runoff voting. Let’s hope lawmakers pass it next year. It would be better for us all.
If you want to learn more about instant runoff voting, check out information on this website: BetterBallotSC.org.
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