| Trudi Gilfillian ∙ The State |

What are the best ways to choose South Carolina’s leaders? Let’s rank them

Nov. 2 was the big day, Election Day.

After being bombarded by countless candidate forums, television commercials, social media blasts and traditional mailers, Columbia voters made the trek to their polling places to vote for the city’s next mayor.

That should have been the end of it.

Ranked-choice voting is the fastest-growing nonpartisan voting reform in the nation.

But in Columbia, like other South Carolina towns, where the winner must amass 50 percent of the vote to win, it’s not over until it’s really over.

So, on Nov. 16, District 4 City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, who received 43.5% of the vote, and at-large City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who received 30.2% of the vote will face each other in a runoff election.

Runoff elections aren’t uncommon, but the inherent problem with them is that voter turnout is likely to be less than it was the first time around when voters actually cared.

And, with just 22.7% of Columbia’s registered voters casting a ballot on Election Day, not that many cared to begin with.

So, maybe it’s time to consider other ways to handle our elections.

One solution – suggested by a faithful reader of The State – is the use of instant runoffs or ranked choice voting.

It’s a system in place in many jurisdictions including Maine, so I talked to Maine’s Secretary of State Shenna Bellows about why the voting method is worth considering.

“We love ranked choice voting, ” said Bellows, a longtime proponent of the voting method, who was actually selected to serve as Secretary of State through her party’s use of ranked choice voting

In Maine, by a vote of 388,273 in favor and 356,621 against, residents approved the use of ranked choice voting in 2016, but the law did not take effect until 2018.

Bellows said the method has several distinct benefits.

“Voter participation and empowerment,” Bellows said, noting that turnout on general election dates versus some other time have higher turnout.

Then, there’s the matter of cost and efficiency.

“It’s much cheaper to run a single election,” Bellow said. “It saves the taxpayers money.”

That also means a savings to candidates who won’t have to keep spending campaign dollars on advertising and paying staff.

Finally, Bellows said the system makes for a more efficient process and a smoother transition.

Winners are determined quickly rather than being delayed by holding a section election.

The hidden benefits?

The system means voters can vote based on their principles and their heart, rather than strategically.

“It increases voter choice,” Bellows said, explaining that as the ranked candidates are counted the ultimate winner will be the result of “a majority of voter’s combined preferences.”

In Maine, the question was not without controversy, but Bellows recalled support crossed party lines.

Ranked choice voting is used there in a host of state and federal races and some municipalities like Portland use it as well.

To explain its use, the state held ice cream socials across the region and had residents rank their preferences for types of ice cream.

Maybe chocolate is your first choice, but if it’s not available you’ll take strawberry or vanilla.

“We rank things all of the time in our daily lives,” Bellows said.

Currently, according to FairVote Press Secretary Will Mantell, South Carolina is one of several states to use ranked choice voting ballots for military/overseas voters for state and federal runoffs.

Mantell added, “Overall, ranked-choice voting is the fastest-growing nonpartisan voting reform in the nation… it’s now used to run elections in 50 jurisdictions with 9.6 million voters, and has been adopted in 13 straight city ballot measures.”

Let’s hope Columbia voters do turn out in droves on Nov. 16.

But let’s also hope South Carolina’s leaders explore the possibility of ranked choice voting for future elections and how it could better serve their constituents.

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