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Missouri voters may soon be able to fundamentally change how their politicians are elected with a new process that could increase voters’ options and decrease partisan extremism. Organizers seek a referendum creating “ ranked-choice” voting . It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and it would give candidates incentive to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate.

The Better Elections Amendment, which organizers hope to get on the November ballot, would work like this: In Missouri’s primaries, all congressional, statewide and legislative primary candidates from all parties would appear on one ballot. The voter would choose one candidate for each office, with no requirement that the choices all be from the same party. If a voter liked a specific Republican candidate for the U.S. House but preferred a Democrat in a local legislative race, that voter could choose both in the primary.

This could dramatically change how candidates campaign, providing strong incentives for them to reach out to a broader base

The top four vote-getters for each office, regardless of party, would go to an “instant runoff” in the general election. Instead of being limited to one choice for each office, the voter could choose up to four, ranking them in order of preference.

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If any one candidate gets ranked first by more than 50% of votes cast, that candidate wins. If no one gets 50%, then the bottom vote-getter of the four candidates gets dropped, and the votes of those who ranked that candidate first would go to whichever candidate those voters ranked second — then the votes would be tabulated again. The process would repeat until one candidate is left with more than half the votes.

Importantly, voters wouldn’t be required to rank all four candidates — they could just leave off any candidates they view as unacceptable — and no voter’s ballot would count toward a candidate that voter didn’t rank. That means no candidate could win unless at least 50% of the voters express enough support to include that candidate somewhere in their rankings. This could dramatically change how candidates campaign, providing strong incentives for them to reach out to a broader base, even to those voters who wouldn’t be likely to rank them as their first choice.

To sweeten the pot, organizers are including ballot-security reforms like mandatory paper trails and mandating that representatives of all political parties be allowed to monitor the process.

If organizers can gather the necessary signatures by March 8 to get the referendum on the November ballot — then win — the new system would start with the 2024 election cycle. If history is a guide, state officials who flourish under the current system can be expected to try to thwart the petition approval or force the referendum onto the lower-turnout August elections instead of November in hopes of defeating it. Those are exactly the kinds of hyper-partisan games that a change like this could make a thing of the past.

Petition information is available at betterelectionsmo.org .

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