Topic: Open Government (268)

Ranked Choice Voting Always Beats Winner-Take-All

Voting on a karaoke song contest offers an opportunity for a clear view of Ranked Choice Voting

Voting on a karaoke song contest offers an opportunity for a clear view of Ranked Choice Voting

RCV Always Beats Winner-Take-All

On a recent weeknight there was yet another demonstration of why we should start using ranked choice voting as soon as we can. The event was billed as Karaoke with the Candidates. It was held at Boundary Bay Brewery and had been organized as a campaign event by three of our local candidates (Eve Smason-Marcus, Kristina Michele Martens, and Eddy Ury). FairVote Washington had been invited to conduct the ranked choice election of best singer. We’ll get to that in a moment.

We’ll Conduct an Election for Any Group

Right after the end of the candidate filing period in May, FairVote Washington sent a questionnaire to 2,600 candidates around the state (all those who had supplied email addresses when filing their candidacies) asking them their views about ranked choice voting (RCV) and offering to send an information packet or to have a meeting with FairVote workers if they needed more information. Among the Whatcom candidates 16 have returned the questionnaire. The inset shows the significant support for ranked choice voting among local candidates.

I want to make it clear that our conducting the karaoke election was not an endorsement of these three candidates. FairVote Washington is a nonpartisan nonprofit. We have offered all 16 our services if they want to hold an event in which there would be some kind of election. Could be Karaoke singers, could be deserts, could be favorite Whatcom parks. The offer is open to any group at all: business groups, unions, neighborhood groups, clubs of any kind, service clubs. The list is long. If any of these groups used RCV for their internal elections they would achieve election results more reflective of the views of their members.

During the 2019 election season we conducted a favorite picnic foods election for a Garrett O’Brien event. Barry Buchanan asked us to run an election in October for one of his fund raisers. What people will be voting on is not yet specified.

But now back to the karaoke.

RCV: Majority Support for Those Elected

In the karaoke challenge, there were nine individual contestants and a group. There were 33 audience members/voters. The singers entertained us with their enthusiastic performances and we really appreciate their support in agreeing to participate in the demonstration. 

As you probably know, voters in a ranked choice election can express their support for as many candidates as they like – and then rank their choices. Right there, a ranked choice election reflects the views of voters better than the method that we currently use where you are forced to pick just one candidate when you may like several. The counting then proceeds in rounds until someone gets a majority. If someone gets a majority in the first round, they are elected and that’s all there is to it. If no one has a majority at that point, the person with the fewest votes is eliminated and the ballots on which that person was the first choice are transferred to the next choice on those ballots. There’s a new tally to see if someone now has a majority. If yes, they’re in. If no, you remove the candidate with the fewest votes – and so on around the circle until someone has a majority. 

The tabulation for the karaoke election was done by people physically moving around the room. The voters all kept their ballots as a guide for where they should move next. Each contestant had a sign with his or her name on it. They arranged themselves around the room. Then each voter moved to the sign of the contestant who was the voter’s first choice. Everyone could physically see what the tally was for each contestant. (We also kept a tally on a whiteboard.) So as not to single out contestants, in the rest of this article we’ll be using the names of the songs instead of those of the singers. 

In the first round, the song with the most votes was “A Big Yellow Taxi” – with seven – and here’s where it becomes very clear how ranked choice voting is superior to winner-take-all. And in this article we won’t even go into how as a structural matter winner-take-all elections bring with them the vote-splitting and gerrymandering blights.

Winner-Take-All Elections Misrepresent the Views of the Voters

If we had been conducting a winner-take-all election, “A Big Yellow Taxi” would have won right then and there – with less than a quarter of the vote! That song would have won when three-quarters of the voters had expressed preferences for other songs.

Here’s another aspect. Suppose the election had been one of Washington’s top two primaries. The number two song in the first round received six votes, so the top two between them had 13, and these two candidates – with less than 40 percent of the total vote – would be the ones that the voters got to choose between in November. 

[The Details of the Tabulation of the song voting rounds can be found below this article under Attached Files.]

This doesn’t sound like representative government to me!

Incidentally, it was that number two song that pulled through in the next to last round and won.  

If you want to find out more about ranked choice voting,

  • go to or Both websites are full of useful information.
  • register for a one-hour FairVote Washington Zoom session on “Why RCV Works” by going here. It’s conducted by Bellingham’s own Kit Muehlman. There is plenty of time for questions and discussion.

To get involved, 

Downtown Bellingham Art Walk

Friday, October 1

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Corner of Holly and Cornwall

Please let us know you are coming, so we can organize the necessary supplies.

Attached Files

About Stoney Bird

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 15, 2012

Comments by Readers

Jon Humphrey

Oct 06, 2021

Yes, this is a fantastic idea that should have always been the system that we used. It is definately the system we need going forward. It is necessary for a democracy. I remember for the brief time that I lived in the mid-west that people always classified us as a “red state” but almost everyone I worked with was more “blue” or more accurately “purple.” Most voters simply don’t align with either major party on every item. In fact, they’re not even close. So all voters end up choosing a candidate they don’t really like.

Besides, as far as I can tell right now we only have 2 parties anyway that could easily be argued to be 1. The super constant consumption anti-environment perpetual warfare pro-business party and the super constant consumption anti-environment perpetual warfare bat-shit crazy pro-business party. In essence, for most voters, our system has degraded into 1 party. Take broadband for example. Public broadband is well supported by voters. 3 out of 3 PUD commissioners support it. Some were elected because of their stance on it. Yet the PUD, Port, and COB all fold to special interests and let corrupt staff push them around in the end at the expense of voters. So, from a functional standpoint, both parties accomplish nothing for most voters, even during a pandemic when the need is obvious. 

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