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Growing polarization and the urgent need for reform

Guest Opinion
Jeanne Massey, director, FairVote Minnesota

As we wrap up the 2022 election, we’ve seen a divided electorate, increasing polarization and even threats of violence against poll workers, candidates and elected officials.
In a recent NBC news poll, voters cited threats to democracy as the top issue facing the country. While politicians and media figures who spread misinformation and use violent rhetoric are certainly to blame, they unfortunately find a ready audience because the electorate is primed to distrust the opposing political party and accept the misinformation.
American’s feelings of animosity toward members of the opposing political party have increased, and increased faster over time, than those of similar democracies.
Unfortunately, our current political system foments this polarization. Since candidates can win primaries and general elections with a bare plurality, they can win by focusing on their base voters and demonizing their opponents.
This encourages attack ads and misinformation and allows extreme candidates to win, even if the majority of voters would have preferred someone else.
We urgently need structural reforms to our current political system in order to change the incentives and ensure majority rule. Ranked Choice Voting is the reform that is viable, proven and can be adopted in the next legislative session.
Ranked Choice Voting – sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting – allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference: First choice, second choice, and so on. If a candidate receives a majority (50 percent plus one) of first-choice rankings in the first round, that candidate wins.
However, if no candidate earns a majority, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is defeated, and these ballots now count for those voters’ second choices. This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority and wins. 
By requiring candidates to win with a majority, candidates need to move beyond their base and build broad, cross-party coalitions of voter support.
Candidates have incentive to campaign positively based on issues rather than on personal attacks, and they behave differently when they benefit from second or third choice votes.
They are less likely to attack an opponent because they don’t want to alienate their opponent’s base voters and risk losing second choice votes. And when candidates are dependent upon a broader segment of the electorate, they tend to be more responsive once in office. They are rewarded for compromising to get things done rather than obstructing legislation supported by the opposing party.
Ranked Choice Voting mitigates the spoiler or vote splitting problem – which could affect critical races this year – by allowing independent candidates to run and voters to support them without fear that their vote might help the candidate they like the least.
This breaks down barriers and encourages political competition, which in turn helps foster broad coalition building among candidates.  
Ranked Choice Voting has demonstrated its power to foster more inclusive, diverse, and civil elections in five cities in Minnesota and more than 50 local jurisdictions across the country, from California to Utah to Minnesota to Maine, as well as the states of Maine and Alaska. 
Minnesota’s legislation to implement Ranked Choice Voting had over 60 cosponsors and was one of the most popular bills last session.
If Minnesotans elect a pro-Ranked Choice Voting majority to both houses and a pro-Ranked Choice Voting governor, we could become the first state to pass Ranked Choice Voting statewide through legislative action.
Regardless of election outcomes, FairVote Minnesota will keep working to build support for this promising democracy reform, regardless of party, so that we can have a more representative, responsive and resilient democracy.
FairVote Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates voters and advances electoral reform.

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