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Ranked-choice voting is needed, along with open primaries

Samuel T. Lair
Samuel T. Lair

In my previous op-ed, I argued that open primaries would improve our democratic institutions by liberating our elections from the stranglehold of the two-party system. However, while opening up the primary system will improve the viability of third-party and independent candidates, this reform would be insufficient on its own.

A significant reason why no third-party candidate is likely to succeed under our current system is that they naturally appeal to the voters of one party over the other. As a result, a popular third-party candidate is more likely to play spoiler to a candidate from an established political party than win election themselves. This problem is exacerbated by our first-past-the-post system, which provides that whatever candidate receives the most votes wins election, even if that candidate fails to receive a majority. Therefore, whenever there is a three or more-man race, our current system incentivizes voters to cast their ballot for an established party candidate who only moderately represents a voter's views or interests, as opposed to the candidate the voter actually prefers, to prevent the election of the candidate or party the voter is most strongly opposed to.

Fortunately, by implementing a ranked-choice voting system, the proposed reform will free voters to support independent candidates without the fear of aiding another party. To this end, Nevadan’s can expect the new system to result in a diverse field of candidates more capable of producing a system of representation consistent with the sentiments and interests of a true majority.

Nevertheless, as welcome an effect this may be, promoting the viability of third parties and independents is not the greatest reason to support the proposed ballot initiative. Rather, sound reason and probity favor the initiative because it remedies our state's most regrettable feature.

Democracy depends upon public agents who possess an immediate dependence on and an intimate sympathy with the people they are entrusted to represent. That is not possible, however, if our public agents are neither dependent upon nor attune to the sentiments of a majority of the electorate. As such, the majoritarian principle is an axiom of democratic government. The people may decide to impose additional boundaries, such as supermajorities, for extraordinary purposes but the bare minimum requirement for any just act is the consent of no less than a simple majority of the citizenry. If any candidate is elected or a piece of legislation passed without satisfying that prerequisite, then that is the very definition of minority rule and oppugnant to the principles of free government.

Unfortunately for all lovers of liberty and justice, our state has a dirty habit of subverting this principle. In 2020, the 3rd Congressional District was awarded to a candidate who failed to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. In 2018, the highest office of trust in our state, the governorship, was awarded to a candidate who similarly failed to receive a vote of confidence from a majority of Nevadans. In 2016, the majoritarian principle was again affronted in our choice for President, Senator, and twice more in the 3rd and 4th Congressional districts. This trend continued in 2014 in the 4th Congressional district, and again in 2012 in the election for U.S. Senate. Accordingly, over the past decade, Nevadans have consistently been represented in the highest offices at both the state and federal levels by members of both parties who have failed to garner the consent of a majority.

Now, it is possible, even likely, that those candidates would have still won their respective races if run-off elections were held to ensure our adherence to the majoritarian principle. But then again, maybe not. Either way, a just democracy does not leave matters of such importance to speculation. Justice demands surety, a surety promised by the proposed reform. The ranked-choice voting system will ensure that no candidate is ever elected without the affirmation of a majority of Nevadans. 

Voters justifiably may be skeptical of such a drastic reform. Constitutional governments, by their very design, are conservative. They purposefully make difficult the process of amending the fundamental law of our democracy so as to provide stability and constancy to our government. As such, we ought never to underestimate the significance of amending our constitution, nor should we ever do so for light or transient causes. Nevertheless, there are instances when all the dictates of justice and common sense so greatly align that it would be foolish to maintain the status quo. Now is such a moment.

As of late, we have been deprived of the basic right not to be governed without the consent of the greater portion of our fellow citizens. With this proposed reform, however, the opportunity to restore this fundamental right is before us. I heartily urge all Nevadans who wish to re-adhere our government to the noble principles of democracy to support the initiative and forever abolishing minority rule in our great state.

Samuel T. Lair is a Ph.D. student at the Hillsdale College Van Andel School of Statesmanship. He is a former research associate for the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities at UNR and a former field staffer for the Nevada Republican Party.


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