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Lawmakers weigh bills to introduce ranked choice voting to Illinois  


Wednesday, March 15, 2023  |  Article  |  Associated Press

Illinois lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that could add ranked choice voting in Illinois for certain elections.


Lawmakers in the House Ethics and Elections Committee heard subject matter testimony Tuesday HB2807 by Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford) that would implement ranked choice voting in presidential primaries and HB3749 by Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) that would allow municipalities to pass ordinances establishing ranked choice voting in municipal elections which could eliminate runoff elections in certain cities.  


Former Colorado Speaker Terrance Carroll, a Democrat who now advocates for ranked choice voting with FairVote, told the committee ranked choice voting helps accommodate early and absentee voters and mitigates the effects of candidates dropping out of races early.  


“Often times we’ll see that those voters in presidential races, they’ll be lots of folks that drop out before their vote is even counted,” Carroll said. “As a result, they have their vote wasted.” 


Carroll said 70,000 to 80,000 votes were wasted in the 2020 presidential primaries in Illinois because candidates dropped out by the time Illinois’ primary came in mid-March over a month after the Iowa Caucus. Voting expert Amber McReynolds added that in 2016, Republican primary voters across the country threw away two million votes for candidates who dropped out of races before election day in their states.  


“It prioritizes and expands voter choice, it puts voters first and improves the voting experience for all,” McReynolds said. “It also addresses the large field of candidates.”  


Carroll added he also believes ranked choice voting fosters more positive campaigning as candidates try to reach more voters in hopes of getting second or third place votes. 


“It also helps promote more viable candidates who are running for office,” Carroll said. “It tends to mitigate against the most extreme candidates in both parties.” 


Carroll said he also believes it allows more women and people of color to win elections and be represented in government, citing New York City’s 2021 municipal election which saw the city elect its second Black mayor and more people of color to City Council.   


Alaska and Maine use ranked choice for elections and Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas used it in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary, according to FairVote. Last fall, Evanston voters overwhelming voted to start using ranked choice voting in municipal races. 


McReynolds explained ranked choice voting is similar to caucus voting. In caucus voting, people typically vote in person and divide themselves into groups. As voters in the caucuses make their choices, some candidates will drop out causing voters to move their vote to a second or third choice candidate.  


“This is kind of like a caucus process, but with a private ballot,” McReynolds said. “In a caucus room, you’re raising your hand or going to a corner of a room to determine your vote and making it public. This is essentially the same way. You’re ranking and you’re shifting your thoughts on that, just with a private ballot.”  


Andy Bakker from the Illinois Opportunity Project said data shows ranked choice voting does not work the way proponents hope it does. He said it has not been shown to improve turnout and doesn’t ensure a candidate will receive a majority of the vote. He added it also delays results, which has been seen in Alaska and New York City.  


“At the end of the day, ranked choice voting is a scheme to disconnect elections from issues and it allows candidates with marginal support to win,” Bakker said. “It obscures true debate, issue-driven dialogue among candidates and eliminates genuine, true primary choices.”  


Lawmakers were especially concerned with how ranked choice voting would be implemented. Buckner, who finished seventh in Chicago’s mayoral contest last month, said it costs the city $25 million to $35 million to conduct a runoff election. He argued ranked choice voting could eliminate those runoff elections and save significant funds and resources.  


However, Illinois State Board of Elections Executive Director of Operations Brian Pryor told the committee no Illinois election authority is ready to implement ranked choice voting and would need to upgrade systems and receive additional certification from the state.  


McReynolds said Cook County and Chicago are the closest prepared to implement ranked choice voting because they use the Dominion Voting Systems, which is most commonly used for ranked choice voting. 


Boone County Clerk Julie Bliss, who heads the Illinois Association of County Clerks and Recorders, said it would cost election authorities a significant amount of money to make upgrades to ranked choice voting, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars in small counties like Boone County to $1.8 million in Sangamon County. 


“We do it all the time—we pass bills and we don’t fund them,” Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) said. “In this case, this would be a humongous undertaking I believe personally without a statewide system.”