SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — A growing number of state senators are advocating for a ranked choice voting system where voters could rank their candidates in order of preference. Advocates say it would result in electing politicians who appeal to a broader portion of the electorate.
Public polling data from Gallup and Pew Research have shown an increasing drift towards polarization and away from a moderate consensus in recent years. Several legislative districts in Illinois are very non-competitive, and often see candidates who wind up running unopposed in the general election. But in a crowded primary field, the most polarizing or controversial candidate can sometimes win the most attention, and coast through to an easy seat in the legislature without facing a challenge from across the aisle, or without winning wide support from the voters in their district.
“The problem that we see is that the primary becomes the entire election,” state Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) said.
Reforming elections to include a ranked choice format would require county clerks to tabulate votes for each race and determine if any candidate had reached a 50% threshold. If no one reached a simple majority, the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated from contention, and the clerk would count up all of the second preferences of that candidate’s voters, adding those second alternative choices to the total vote counts for candidates still remaining in the field. The process would continue until one candidate had won at least half of the total votes.
Supporters say the ranked choice system would require candidates to appeal to a broader portion of the electorate, instead of tacking hard left or hard right to win the loyal affection of those with the most extreme views in their party.
“The person that comes out as a Republican nominee and the Democrat nominee tends to be more extreme,” Bennett said of crowded primary contests. “And so then it gets around to the general, and the more moderate voters come out to look for their candidates, they don’t find either candidate they identify with. That’s one of the reasons I like rank choice voting.
“I think this is one way to try to make the candidates more like the general populace, which I think is somewhere in between the two extremes,” he said.
Seven senators have already signed onto the proposal, which would apply to members of the General Assembly and statewide officeholders. Last year, the idea had just three sponsors; but the concept has started to attract more attention from reform-minded lawmakers. The proposal has not yet been cleared by a committee for a vote on the Senate floor, but several other legislators say they would support the idea.