By AM Benjamin

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. If that’s the case, a well-designed video could be worth a million more. 

Ranked choice voting is a simple idea that has been gaining ground over the past couple years as a non-partisan tool that may play a role in salvaging American democracy. Yet for many RCV enthusiasts like myself, it can be difficult to extol its merits to others. Let’s face it, no matter how much you might nerd out over government policies, most of our social circle probably aren’t electoral reform junkies.

I myself confess that even though I learned about the initial concepts around RCV around 10 years ago, it took me a while to truly understand the role it could play in fundamentally altering the fabric of our democracy. Given that this voting reform is not intuitive, the best resource RCV enthusiasts can leverage when explaining to electoral reform novices is the use of videos. The following are a list of some of my top choices for video explanations, whether you are just a curious RCV novice who wants to learn more or an organization looking to leverage what existing content is available. 

The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained

Background: In order to discuss the merits of RCV, it is first important to understand the problems with the current system we have in most areas of the United States: First-Past-The-Post (FPTP). I first came to know about FPTP voting through YouTuber CPG Grey. Grey has earned a reputation for his contrarian views, but he is also known for his brilliant easy-to-digest explanations. More importantly, he was lamenting about the problems of our current voting system long before it was ‘vogue.’ 

Why I like this video: 

  1. In order to understand the benefits of RCV, it is first important to understand why our current voting system fails. Grey’s video on FPTP is a starter video for anyone that really wants to get a simple but nuanced explanation of the problems we have. 
  2. Using examples of a fictional Animal Kingdom, Grey carefully outlines many of the flaws and limitations of FTPT systems with detailed but easy-to-understand explanations.
  3. When I first saw this video, my first reaction was, “Wait? There is a name the way that all of us vote? Isn’t it just called regular voting?” My guess is that most electoral reform novices are going to have a similar reaction. Most people do not sit around thinking about the current voting system, because they do not realize there are a multitude of  ways to vote. As such, watching CPG Grey’s video is incredibly enlightening because it forces people to start rethinking a voting system that they have known most of their lives. 

The Alternative Vote Explained

Background: If CPG Grey is going to take down FPTP, he needed to offer an alternative to a better voting system. And he did, with his video explanation of the “Alternative Vote” aka Ranked Choice Voting. Note: Although CPG Grey is American, I presume he used the British nomenclature for Ranked Choice Voting, the ‘alternative vote’, because he lives in the UK, hence the name of the video. Like his “The Problem with the FPTP” vote, he reuses his explanations with the Animal Kingdom to illustrate why RCV is a better option for voters. 

Why I like this video: 

  1. CPG Grey made Youtube videos for his own intellectual pursuits. While there may have been many political scientists and electoral reform enthusiasts who shared his sentiments, very few of them have succeeded in gaining the views and attraction that he did. 
  2. Grey’s background was in education, so his focus is on the pedagogical. He understands how to make RCV explanations intuitive for laypeople.
  3. He is not affiliated with any organization, so we can assume he had no agenda in creating these video series other than for the good of democracy. 

What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Background: FairVote is one of the largest and oldest nonprofits devoted to promoting electoral reform and notably RCV in the United States. This video created by FairVote offers a good premise that covers most of the basics on what RCV is and how it can be useful.

Why I like this video:

  1. The bar graph visuals simulate different scenarios and model what happens with multiple rounds that allow a candidate to cross the 50% threshold.
  2. The video is short, to-the-point for people who may not care about all the nuances of our voting problems and would just like to get straight to the point. 

How does ranked-choice voting work?

Background: RCV is heralded as a powerful tool in the electoral reform toolkit because it can be leveraged from a bottom-up approach. Although it has been making its way towards state-wide implementation, it has really come up through a bottom up approach starting with many localities notably towns, cities, and other forms of local government. This video created by Minneapolis is a perfect example of how the city was working to promote RCV education throughout the community. 

Why I like this video: 

  1. While a lot of videos do a good job showing RCV merits through graphics,, it is sometimes hard to visually see a voter’s second and third choices. Using post-it notes that show color options in the background, it offers a clear and concise visual of how the 2nd and 3rd votes are distributed after the first couple rounds when candidates are eliminated.
  2. As always, it’s a good perspective to see how local governments teach the values of RCV.

How ranked choice voting could tip the scales in Maine’s tight 2nd District

Background: Maine became the first state to implement RCV at a state level. Maine’s 2nd district was heavily watched in the 2018 election as it was the only toss-up district using RCV. In the end, the election proved to be a real nailbiter, but the seat did ultimately switch parties. This video shows how RCV implementation played a role with respect to a crucial congressional race. 

Why I like this video: 

  1. With the implementation of RCV in Maine, this video highlights the importance that independents played in shaping the election. Maine has a history of supporting independent candidates and RCV facilitated that. 
  2. It covers the important concept of vote splitting. Under plurality voting, vote splitting (voting for a third-party candidate) can hurt chances for similar candidates and thus increase opportunities for dissimilar candidates to win. The video provides a concise explanation on why vote splitting is no  longer a concern with the implementation of RCV. 

Alaska ranked choice voting, explained

Background: Alaska made the transition from closed primaries with plurality vote to Top 4 Open primary with Ranked Choice Voting, a noted democratic change that is getting attention all over the country. The video provides an overview for Alaskans about how their new open primary is designed to work and what to expect on the ballot for upcoming elections. This video from Alaska Public media is a great step towards providing an overview for all voters of a brand new system. 

Why I like this video:

  1. Open Primary Explanation: Provides an explanation for how Alaskans are going to vote in the new primary. Under the open primary, all Alaskan voters regardless of party affiliation can select candidates for each office and vote on the same ballot. 
  2. Provides an explanation of Top 4: The top 4 picks from the open primary will be displayed on the ballot for the general election. 
  3. Ballot Design Display: What’s striking about this video is it shows how a ballot under a Top 4 Ranked Choice Voting Candidate would look. Visualizations of a ballot and sample ranked choice voting selections are always a great form of education. Like CPG Grey, it uses the animal kingdom (this time animals native to the Arctic), as a means of providing examples.

Votación por orden de preferencia (Ranked-choice voting, Spanish)

Background: With democratic reform, we need to create more resources to provide explanations of these changes to voting for non-native English speakers. Once again the city of Minneapolis created a video to explain RCV to their Spanish-speaking audience.  

Why I like this video:

  1. I learned from this video that Ranked Choice Voting in Spanish is “Votacion Por Orden de preferencia”.    
  2. Some voting organizations that have created videos to cater to Spanish speaking audiences, just take existing English videos and dub Spanish audio over.  Note to RCV enthusiasts: this is never a good strategy.  This video (with actual Spanish words in the text) is clearly designed for a Spanish-speaking audience. 
  3. Like the “Post-it note” Minneapolis video, this video has somse good graphics to help explain how a candidate is able to win with RCV with the 50% threshold.   
  4. Like the Alaska video, it demonstrates ranked choice voting with a sample ballot (always a good way to teach). 
  5. We need to find ways to explain Ranked choice voting in other languages: Chinese, Korean, French, German, Portuguese.  Voter experience and voting rights requires that we find more content for non-native English speakers.   This video is one of the better produced designs on RCV content.

Can Ranked-Choice Voting Save Washington

Background:  A feature from CNBC about the RCV movement and its potential benefits to democracy.

Why I liked this video:

  • This is a great overview on how RCV efforts at the state and local level and how this could eventually translate to national change. 
  • It features endorsements from members in the Democratic, Republican, and Green Party, but it also offers some critical perspectives as well.  Even if you are the most hardcore RCV supporter, it is important to understand the concerns about its overall implementation.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Rank the Vote, its members, supporters, funders, or affiliates.