What is The VOICE Act? (read the full bill here)
On July 14th 2021, Councilmember Christina Henderson along with Councilmembers Charles Allen, Brianne K. Nadeau, Brooke Pinto, Mary M. Cheh, Elissa Silverman and Janeese Lewis George introduced the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021. This legislation would introduce ranked choice voting to the District of Columbia for our 2024 elections, with an accompanying public education campaign about the transition.
What’s In the VOICE Act?
Ranked Choice Voting
The VOICE Amendment Act would enable voters to rank up to five candidates for a particular office in order of their preference. If a candidate receives more than half of the first-choice votes, that candidate wins – just like any other election. However, if there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an instant runoff.
The benefits of RCV are just as diverse as the candidates who are empowered to run under this system. Candidates are incentivized to campaign positively to appeal to the supporters of other candidates as a backup preference. It reduces fears of vote splitting and the “spoiler effect,” where similarly positioned candidates split a pool of voters and permit a third candidate with less broad appeal to win by plurality. Further, data increasingly shows that in all jurisdictions that use RCV – including New York City, Minneapolis, and San Francisco – voter turnout is modestly increasing, and races are more dynamic and collegial with genuine policy debates supplanting negative campaign tactics.
The legislation would also establish a voter education campaign to be conducted by the Board of Elections. The Board of Elections will need to prioritize outreach to seniors and low-turnout precincts as part of its public education efforts. Public input will strengthen this preliminary framework for voter outreach, and we look forward to a robust discussion of how a new model for our elections can elevate diverse candidates, increase voter buy-in to outcomes, and improve candidate discourse. The number of states and cities using RCV nationwide is expected to almost double to 53 by the end of 2022. These jurisdictions will be crucial case studies that will inform our implementation and voter education efforts here in the District.
Problems with DC’s current election system:
1) Candidates can win even if most voters voted for someone else (for example, in a crowded field, the winner often ends up with less than 20% of the vote). This often can result in a winner that most voters don’t support.
2) DC voters are told to “hold their nose” and vote for candidates perceived to be winners instead of voting for who will represent them best. Instead of campaigns focused on issues and equity, campaigns focus on who is “electable”.
3) Communities end up splitting their vote between similar candidates, weakening their collective voting power. Politicians can then pit people against one another instead of doing the hard work to bring us together.
An equitable election solution:
The VOICE Act and Ranked Voting
1) Washingtonians are free to vote their values and choose a candidate who will represent their community best without needing to worry about “who will win”. This gives voters more choice, voice, and power in the process.
2) Diverse communities can build community power together without vote splitting. Politicians are incentivized to bridge our communities, campaign across the city, and build coalitions that reflect the will of the people.
3) Fairer and more equitable representation of our communities because candidates have to get a majority of the vote. More voices are heard and more people get to vote for a winner.