In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather interviews Micah Rasmussen from Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Ryder University about the Zwicker bill to institute Ranked Choice Voting here in NJ. They discuss the pros and cons that may come with ranked choice, as well as other possible voting systems besides ranked choice and first past the post. They discuss how this system could encourage or discourage marginalized voters and marginalized candidates. There are over 20 cities that have passed ranked choice voting as well as the state of Maine. They are leading this experiment in democracy that has to be better than the failing system we have.

(Transcript Auto Generated)

Micah Rasmussen 0:00
runoff elections are notorious for screening out minority candidates who do well.

This is Wine Women and Revolution with your host Heather Warburton. Hi and welcome to Wine Women and Revolution. I’m your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on Create Your Future Productions. It’s my brand new home and my brand new website. You can find us online at your future and great news. Breaking News just today I am pretty much anywhere that you get your podcasts from now you can find Wine, Women and Revolution. They’re in our new home and new format. So if you can click on follow, give us likes give us ratings really helps me out since I’m just starting out this new venture on my own. And I’m very excited about what the future is gonna hold. So today we have a great topic. one’s definitely important to me. I think most people listening to me today would agree that the state of our electoral system in this country is kind of rough. Like we have vote shaming we have division, we have some of the least inspiring candidates for president that the duopoly has probably ever run. Voter apathy is that one of the all time highs barely more than 50% of people vote. So we kind of need some sort of solution. And my guest today, I think maybe has one of those possible solutions. And it’s a solution I’ve been talking about for a couple years now that I really think is the best possible solution. And that’s ranked choice voting. So I’d like to welcome to my show today. Micah Rasmussen.

Thanks for having me.

So let’s get a little bit about your credentials. Why am I having you on to talk about this today?

Unknown Speaker 1:50
So I’m the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Ryder University. And so, I’ve spent most of my career as a practitioner of politics of New Jersey politics in particular. And I was governor McGreevy’s press secretary was the last job that I held in politics. I also have managed a number of campaigns, I worked in the state legislature, I worked at the Department of Transportation. So I’ve seen a lot and done a lot. And really the strength that I bring to my students and to my work at the Institute, is that I bring that practical political experience and try to leverage it for the students advantage. And so there aren’t too many people who study New Jersey politics in particular, Dr. Rebovich, the guy that the institute is named after was my mentor, when I was a student here at Ryder. And I’m so happy to be continuing the work that he did, and to do the same for new students that he was able to do for me.

Micah Rasmussen 2:51
And so today, we’re talking about ranked choice voting. And I think people have probably heard about it. Now, there’s a couple of states that have been trying to get it on the ballot. And here in New Jersey, we actually did have an assembly person put forth proposal to try to get it on the ballot here in New Jersey, right?

Yes, Andrew Zwicker. He is an Assemblyman from the Princeton area. He represents parts of Princeton, parts of some parts of Mercer and Somerset County. He is sort of the intellectual heir apparent of a Rush Holt. We have actually two politicians in New Jersey who have been rocket scientists. So he’s a thinker. He tries to bring a scientific based approach to decision making in the state legislature, and he’s working with colleges and universities across the state to bring evidence based decisions to government. And to that end, he has offered this proposal to move to a ranked choice system of voting in New Jersey. And, and so what it would do is it would allow voters to rank candidates in their order of preference. And then if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, it automatically transfers their next choice votes to the candidates who have the highest number of votes, okay, so you’re not forced to vote for every candidate. You don’t have to rank every candidate you can if you want to. And very simply, if a candidate gets a majority of first choice votes on the first round of voting, and then they win the election very simply. But if there’s no majority winner, then the last place candidate is eliminated. And any voter who had that candidate as their top choice would have their votes automatically transferred to the next choice, and their votes will be a portion to the candidates who got the more got more votes. This process will be repeated with successive rounds of voting until only two candidates remain. Then the candidate with the most votes will be the winner. Sometimes it’s called an instant runoff system. Or if you can think about the process that we just went through in the spring with nominating the nominees for the Republican Partyor the Democratic Party for president, it’s the way Iowa does things through their well known and sometimes controversial caucus process. But it would be an automatic caucus process where the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. And then we have in the next round with the candidates who got over the threshold of votes.

So you wouldn’t have people have to show up in the same room and try to bribe people to your team with doughnuts, it would be different from that sort of caucusing. It’s all done. You just vote sort of normally, like you vote now. Correct?

Exactly. Right. Yes,

it would be automatic. It would be done on the machines. And in fact, that’s one of the one of the things that we’ll probably talk about is infrastructure wise, you need machines that can handle it. And right now, the machinery that we use in New Jersey is not really equipped to handle it. And so what Assemblyman Zwicker has said there is we’re pushing for machines that have paper backup anyway, so wouldn’t be the end of the world to me if we had to get new machines that were able to handle paper backup and able to handle this new system of voting,

Are there no counties in New Jersey that have a system that has paper backup currently.

We do actually. And that’s sort of theā€¦that’s sort of the weakness of that argument is we actually do have some counties that have invested in new equipment, have the new equipment, have paper back up. I couldn’t tell you which ones off the top of my head, but I know that we have clerks, county clerks come in and talk to our students from time to time. I can tell you Warren County just invested in new equipment. There are a number of counties that have and they do have that paper backup. Yeah. Okay. So that

Okay. So that would need either a software update or actually new physical equipment to be able to rank choices. It’s just not set up that way. Currently.

Yes. Exactly.

And how and this is different than what we currently have? What we have currently is called first past the post voting, right?

Yes, exactly. And, you know, this is this is what you it’s not, it’s not an entirely unfamiliar concept to us. But the part that you might be most familiar with the New Jersey is the concept of a runoff election, right? So I can think of several cities in New Jersey like Newark, or like Vineland, my hometown, where if neither candidate or for none of the candidates who are running for mayor achieve 50% of the vote, currently, now. There’s a runoff election that’s scheduled for the next month later. But you know, a lot of people think that this is always been a bad idea, because you’re asking people to come out twice, you’re trying to sustain interest. It’s there’s always a lower level of participation for that second runoff election. It’s just, it’s not that people aren’t paying attention to their mayor’s race, people pay a lot of attention to who’s mayor of their town. But it’s kind of tough to sustain that level of interest and that level of enthusiasm. So it’s, widely regarded. And in fact, I will tell you, Heather, that I have some problems with the runoff process that I wonder how it would play out in an instant runoff process. For example. Runoff elections are notorious in the south, for screening out minority candidates who do well, right. So for example, if you’ve got a black candidate who does very well, and you’ve got two or three white candidate to do very well, in an election, that a runoff forcing the black candidate who doesn’t achieve 50%, but does very well, forcing that candidate into a runoff can sort of force them into a situation where they not only have to do well now that they have to achieve over 50%. And this is what happened to Stacey Abrams, right. And her in her run for governor of Georgia, right, she did very well. But when the other candidates got dropped out, and we were down to Stacey Abrams versus Brian Kemp, white votes consolidated behind that, and he wound up winning the race. So I, I understand that rank choice voting can absolutely sometimes encourage independent and third party candidates to get into the race. And sometimes you’d get better candidates and better campaigns, because they’re not you’re not just going for the first choice now or the lesser of two evils. You’re actually trying to capture people’s imaginations so that you get those second round votes and those third round votes that can help you in the successive rounds. of the of the rank choice, voting the tabulation. But I’m also concerned that the runoff elections of the past have not always been the kindest to minorities. It’s been an exclusionary tactic in some cases,

Heather Warburton 10:20
Right. And I kind of wonder if that would happen as much an instant runoff as it did with that delayed runoff, where everyone has to come back again. Because we all know that people from marginalized communities are already struggling to get out to the polls. So to ask them to come out again, twice, is really asking a lot from marginalized communities, where if it all happened at once, maybe some of that would be alleviated.

Micah Rasmussen 10:46
It’s a good point. And you may very well be right about this, because we see a number of examples of urban areas across the country that are adopting rank choice voting like New York City just did. And I don’t believe that there by any means the first. They are about 20th city across the country that is embarking on this, you know, this experiment. So you know, there’s nothing to be lost by trying, you know, if New York City finds that it’s not a good system, and it is an exclusionary tactic, that I’m sure that they’ll move away from it very quickly. So I think, to some extent, we can say, we don’t think this is what’s going to happen. We don’t see any evidence it’s going to happen. But we have seen this tactic in the past with run offs. And you know, if we start to see it again, then we’re going to want to move away from it, because we’re certainly not going to want to see a situation where an innovation like this leads to, you know, discouraging people from getting involved.

Heather Warburton 11:36

Micah Rasmussen 11:36
I think can happen, not just to a minority candidate, but I also think it can happen to third party candidates. I think I know, I know that one of the goals here is to increase participation. But I’m not sure that this does anything to change the chances of a third party candidate from winning, in fact, you not only have to do well now, but you have to give 50% now, right, so this, you know, under the under the current system, you don’t necessarily have to achieve a majority unless the law says you do, you can win with a plurality of votes. Now, we’re saying, We no longer want to achieve a plurality. That’s a bad thing. We want consensus, which was one of the nice things about rancors voting, we do achieve consensus and that way, it helps us to achieve consensus, because nobody has any longer elected without a majority of the vote. That’s a positive thing. That’s a wonderful thing that we can now say that most of the electorate supported, every person who’s elected is no longer possible to be elected without a majority of the vote. That’s a good thing, except it raises the bar for a third party candidate.

Heather Warburton 12:42
I guess, as a third party person, you know, everyone knows I’m associated with the Green Party. I was the chair of the Green Party of New Jersey a few years back. And like, quite honestly, I think our best candidate, other than the ones who have won, you know, we have green people holding office here in New Jersey. But you know, we generally at max get five or 6% of the vote, and a lot of that is that lesser evil and fear and vote shaming. I mean, look at, you know, the presidential election this year. We have Joe Biden, we have Donald Trump, we have the Libertarian candidate, we have my candidate, Howie Hawkins, and openly saying that you’re a Howie Hawkins voter definitely stirs up a lot of Oh, you’re well, that’s just voting for Trump. You know, that’s kind of the myth, at least now, votes are never reassigned. My vote for Hawkins is never going to Trump, there’s no way in hell I would ever vote for Trump. But this rank choice voting kind of eliminates that narrative, I think it does free people up to not be abused for their vote.

Micah Rasmussen 13:49
That’s a really good point. And I think the third party voter, you’re right, it does create the option that you can vote in the first ballot for the candidate that you really like that third party candidate. But at the end of the day, if that candidate does get eliminated, you don’t have the fear that you’ve wasted your vote or that your votes been thrown away, because your vote is allocated to your next choice. So that’s absolutely true. And I get that that helps participation that way. But I also think if you look at it from the other end of it, you know before let’s let’s look at the classic example, Jesse Ventura, Jesse Ventura would have had a much harder time being elected governor of Minnesota, if he had had to achieve 50% of the vote, instead of just getting a plurality of the vote. So this raises the bar for Jesse Ventura to win The governor of Minnesota

Heather Warburton 14:44
I think history will have to decide if that would have been a good or a bad thing. Jesse Ventura, not being the governor.

But I guess what I did want to get into next in the conversation was that Maine, for example, this year is specifically going to have rank choice voting for their presidential election. So I think this is going to be a good experiment to see all these things that we’re kind of theorizing about right now. We can see what they would play out, like, what percentage do the greens usually get in Maine? What percentage do the libertarians usually get in Maine? Does that increase to help the party grow? You know, does it eliminate voting out of fear? You know, it’ll be an interesting experiment to say

Micah Rasmussen 15:30
it will. And the Supreme Court in Maine just decided within the last couple of days against the republican party that was trying to eliminate rank choice voting for president and said, essentially, for the first time just a few days ago that we will be deciding the presidential race in Maine by rank choice voting. They have had ranked choice voting for a couple of years now, in Maine. And actually, in the last congressional race in 2018, a house republican was ousted. In the second congressional district, that more conservative district in Maine, he was the winner on the raw machine vote. The first round, he had more votes plurality, but he did not have an outright majority. So that triggers again, exactly what we’re talking about here, where, and it was Peloquin, Bruce Poliquin. He had more votes on the machine for the first choice, but not a majority of them. They go into the second round, and Jared Golden picks up votes from the independent. There were two independent candidates. They of course drop out because neither one of them reached the threshold. And their votes that they earned were reallocated. More of them were reallocated to Golden. So Golden actually picked up a couple of thousand votes, and was able to overcome that first round deficit that he had. And he was actually he filled the seat, he won the election Poliquin sued. He said that vote shouldn’t be allocated this way. There’s no provisional constitution. There’s no provision in the US Constitution for this. And ultimately, it was it was rejected, the court said, Look, Maine has the right to set the rules for its election the way that Maine wants to set the rules for its election. And so you know, the extension now they moved to this system. Four years ago, they had the house races decided this way two years ago. And now they’re going to try this for the presidential coming up.

And the Senate in Maine as well, that this year, there is a green running a very strong campaign against Susan Collins, you know, one of those senators that we’re hearing quite a bit about now with the appointment of the replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you know, we’re hearing, she’s in the news quite a bit. And Lisa Savage, who was just on our women’s panel that we hosted last week, is running a really strong campaign. So it’ll be interesting to see how she does there,

it’ll be very interesting to see. Because if you want to vote for her, you don’t have any fear that you’re spoiling the race between Collins and Gideon, you don’t have to feel that you’re throwing away your vote between you know, like, let’s say that, you know, the third party Savage doesn’t wind up winning. Um, and let’s say one side of the other of the two major candidates winds up winning, you can still participate in that race with your second or third vote, that’ll be reallocated, presumably, to either get in or to Collins. And so that will be very interesting. I do think that it’ll go to two rounds, obviously, electronically. And I do think that those third party voters will have the chance now, to participate in that second round question between, you know, now that we’ve eliminated Savage are we going and I don’t mean to be depressing to third party candidates. But if that’s the way it winds up, then the votes get reallocated.

Yep. Yeah, I think it’ll be interesting to see how all this stuff does play out. And what would the percentage that the greens did end up with on the first round, it will be higher than what it would have been without ranked choice voting. And I think also in a state here, like New Jersey, it’s kind of decided how the outcome we pretty much know how the presidential we’re gonna vote blue in New Jersey, it’s a pretty, it would take something really astonishing to happen to New Jersey not to go blue. So a lot of people your vote doesn’t count in New Jersey, there’s only so many people whose votes do count. So with something like rank choice voting, you might actually be able to make your vote count a little more.

Yeah. And one of the things that , I participated in a story that Matt Freeman wrote about this worker proposal from Politico, and one of the things we both believe may happen is that it does increase. Here’s where I really like ranked choice. Okay. And and, you know, the description we just had about the Maine Senate race is a good example. I love ranked choice for a jumble primary situation where you have a bunch of candidates, and you’re trying to wittle the field down to one nominate, right? That’s a great system because now you’re really not just getting that first choice, but you’re getting next preferences as well. It’s a really nice way. And when you think about the way Iowa does it, or when you think about the way that Nevada does it with their caucuses, which we may lose now, because the problems that they had with implementing them this time around, we may not see them again. But there is a very nice element there, which is that you’re not just getting that gut first round reaction, you’re getting some depth of preference, you’re getting some depth of of earning votes, right. You’re getting a a richer, final outcome. Right. And so I like it for that, that that primary situation. And I think you could encourage more participation that way, let’s face it, the parties in New Jersey are notorious for not having an open candidate selection process in their primaries, right? It’s, you know, it’s all done by party line, it’s all done by party, boss, right? It’s not an open process. This really has the potential to open up the process to candidates who want to get involved for candidates, the barrier to getting involved the barrier to having an impact to getting involved. If you don’t make the next round, you don’t make the next round, you’re you’re not feeling like you go out and vote in a primary. And the cost of voting for a third party candidate is so high that you would never contemplate doing it, you can still do it. If that’s what you really like, without fear that you’re going to have no impact on the final outcome of the race if that candidate is eliminated.

Heather Warburton 21:45
Yeah, so but I’m thinking Zwicker is not really getting a great support from his fellow colleagues for this bill. Can you kind of tell me what the reactions have been?

Micah Rasmussen 21:55
Yeah, it’s been, you know, it’s been? I would say that people say, Oh, it was an intriguing idea, right? Nobody says, nobody says I hate this. Nobody says it’s DOA. Nobody says it will never go anywhere. But you know, all this. That’s intriguing. That’s a novelty. Right, treat it as sort of novelty. It hasn’t, it hasn’t moved legislatively. I don’t know that it will move legislatively. It’s a thinking person’s idea. Right, quite frankly. And you need to be willing to set aside the existing way of doing things. And I guess it shouldn’t come as much surprise to us that anybody in the legislature now has come through the existing process, and is part of the existing process, and has a vested interest in the existing process. And so therefore, they’re not so eager to reject it, and to try something new. I wouldn’t say he’s going away, I wouldn’t say the idea is going away, I would say it’ll Hang in there. The more we see successes with other places trying it, the more we may say, let’s try this once, you know, we had experiment, we’ve had electoral experiments before. In New Jersey, for example, people may not remember this, but we had a public financing option for a couple of legislative districts in New Jersey for a very short period of time. There’d be nothing wrong with trying this in a primary election at some point and seeing how we do we like it great. It’ll be you know, an experiment we don’t like it will come back to the old by their, you know, again, do I see that happening tomorrow? there? I don’t. But the more we see successes in other places, the more we may lower the barrier to the level of resistance to it.

Heather Warburton 23:40
Right. And, you know, for people who are trying to change the world, then, you know, changing the electoral process is just another hurdle that we know is going to be a barrier. And we know it’s going to be a challenge. But if we believe that change is important, and necessary, then it’s just another thing we have to fight for change for.

Micah Rasmussen 24:00
Absolutely, yeah, no, I think now, here’s here’s sort of a little bit of a downside. And I know this may be discounted by proponents. But there is a significant potential for voter confusion because it’s different, right? Because it’s new. It doesn’t mean that can’t be overcome. It’s nothing that education can’t overcome. It’s nothing that’s showing people how the system works. When you explain it very simply, in you know, in one sentence, you allow voters to rank candidates and their choice a preference and transfer your votes. If no candidate gets more than 50%. How hard is that? Right? I think it can be done. I’m confident that that that that can be educated. However, we are we are now going through an election in which you know, I almost want to say it’s cognitive dissonance , right? It’s almost like where we want to be confused, right where we want to say that the new process of voting by mail is confusing to us. I don’t think it’s terribly confusing. I don’t think anybody is really confused by it. But if one side or the other wants to be confused, then they’ll be confused if one side wants to say it’s chaos, and I guess it can be chaos, and this is a new way of doing things. So I think, you know, coupled with any experiment, and this coupled with any new system like this, you’d have to dedicate a significant effort to making sure that voters knew what was going on.

Heather Warburton 25:23
Well, that kind of brings me into the other thing I wanted to discuss today was, there are other options other than first past the post and rank choice. There are other methods of voting, we could have a conversation about, for example, approval voting, where you would just go in and you wouldn’t rank This is my first choice, this is my second choice, you would just vote for everyone you like, as one option. And then there’s also one that I think is a little possibly even more towards the voter confusion of Score Voting, where they give you 10 points, and you allocate those 10 points, however you want to any of the candidates. And I’m sure there’s others that I haven’t really thought of. But there are other options. And you admittedly, he said before the interview, he wasn’t as familiar with these, but he kind of wanted to give a gut reaction when he hears about them. Would they hurt with voter confusion? Would they help? I know that with approval voting machines could accept that now because we are allowed to vote vote multiple candidates on things like school board already.

Micah Rasmussen 26:24
Absolutely, yeah. Yeah. No, you Yeah, let’s say vote for three instead of vote for vote for five or vote for three year vote for two or whatever. Right. Exactly. That’s, that’s not a hard concept to grasp, right. And then, but I think people still have to understand what’s going to happen to those choices. You want them to understand what’s going to happen to those choices. So yes, I agree that that’s possible. Here’s the other thing, the more we are voting by mail now, instead of by machine, the more that’s really theoretically possible, and you don’t have hardware issues to overcome. The other thing that can be said about voting by mail, is that you’re voting by main, you’re voting at home, you’re voting in your dining table, you are laying the ballot out in front of you, you’re stopping to really digest things. I don’t know about everybody else. But I know that when people go into the booth today, there’s pressure on them to get in and get out, there’s not a lot of time to sit and digest. That’s why you have drop off when it comes to ballot questions that are on the side, because people think, oh, there’s somebody behind me a lot, I better get the heck out of here, a better get done as quickly as I can, if you had the chance to really sit down and digest and say, Oh, I have 10 points here. Let me see how I want to allocate these right? Let me really stop and think about how I want to do this. If you’re sitting down over the course, you know, a loved one, whatever, by yourself, whatever, you may really take the time to put some thought into this right, especially if there’s some good instructions that come with it. So I think, you know if this is in fact, where we’re moving to, and I realized we’re in the middle of the virus, but I don’t think we’re going to go back to a day in which a lot of us aren’t voting by mail. So I think the idea of sitting down and having the time to really plan this out, is a good way and a good time to have to introduce some of these complexities or some of these nuances or some of these new rules and ways of doing things.

Right. And I mean, these those last two, I don’t believe have been tried anywhere in the country, to the best of my knowledge. I don’t think there’s any towns that have used them yet. But you know, there’s various ways and as long as we’re having the conversation, we may as well talk about all the upsides and all the downsides of all the options we’re talking about.

You could theoretically try one in each county, you know, again, if you’re talking about a primary, remember and generals. I think for the reasons I talked about, I put in a little bit of a different bucket. But there’s absolutely no reason why a party Let’s face it, a primary election is still a party affair, right until you open it up and make it a completely open primary, which is a different story as well, or, you know, completely open primaries, but there’d be no reason why you couldn’t conduct some experimentation with different parties and different candidates in different counties trying different systems and getting some voter feedback on that. I think it’d be a good idea.

Heather Warburton 29:20
I know, our party does usually use rank choice within our party, the Green Party wherever they can. I mean, there’s some states where you vote in a primary like California along with everyone else. But in states where the Green Party sort of runs their own internal primaries, we do generally try to use rank choice voting whenever possible. So it’s a very small scale experiment.

Micah Rasmussen 29:42
No, I’m sure it works just fine. Yeah, absolutely.

Let’s see, what else did I want to bring up today? I think we’ve covered most of the topics I wanted to touch on today. Actually, I do. I think that’s it other than I wanted to give you a chance for sort of a last word about ranked choice voting or voting in general, or words of wisdom you want to pass along to the listeners, if people do like these ideas, how could they learn more? Can they reach out to your center and get information from them?

Absolutely. Anybody who wants to learn more, check out I’d be glad to discuss it. One thing that I do want to say is that a lot of times with new proposals like this, it is important that we think through unintended consequences again, you know, I think it’s a it’s a great way to encourage participation, does it give a minority candidate full access? does it increase the potential of the possibility that it sort of screens them out before you get to, you know, those final two results? So that’s the kind of thing you want to think through? And maybe you have to test and see how these 20 cities that are looking at it that are doing it? How is their experience going? Is that actually encouraging more people into the process? Or is it discouraging people from the process? And I think there’s a lot of reason to believe that it’s a latter. And let’s see if that’s what’s happening in real time.

Right? I mean, it’s science, you create a hypothesis, this is going to be a better voting system. We test that hypothesis on larger and larger scales, until we reach the conclusion, yes, this is a better voting system. And I think we’re into the steps of that experiment now.

Yep, I agree. And listen, we can’t do worse than the system we have. So it is certainly worth seeing what we can do better. Absolutely.

To my listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. This was a really important discussion to have. And I know speaking as a third party organizer, it kind of seems sometimes like it’s like our only chance at actual democracy is to have some sort of alternate system that’s created with more openness in mind. There are a lot of barriers put on if you’re trying to run or organize outside of that duopoly. There’s already huge financial barriers placed against you. And then there’s just some arbitrary barriers, like you’ve got to get X percent of the vote if you even want to have about wine. So something like this could kind of help deconstruct some of those things. And I appreciate you if you want to reach out, you know, to me, or to any of the Green Party or you want to reach out to your local Congress person and say, Hey, I really want to talk about this rank choice bill, voting bill from zwicker. All those would be great things for you to do and I would really appreciate you if you do. Thank you for joining us today. The future is to create go out there and create it

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