By MARVIN RANDOLPH
Southern Elections Fund
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s retirement marks the end of a legendary chapter in Dallas politics – and perhaps the beginning of a new one. A wave of young political talent has stepped up to claim the seat Johnson is vacating.
An amazing nine candidates of color competed in the March 1 democratic primary, with State Rep. Jasmine Crockett and Jane Hope Hamilton advancing to a runoff. Rep. Crockett played a prominent role in fighting Senate Bill 1 and its voter suppression tactics, while Hamilton served as President Biden’s Texas state director in the 2020 primary.
In either Crockett or Hamilton, Dallas residents will have a great new advocate and Texas’s fourth-ever Black congresswoman. But voters have every reason to be frustrated, because they have to vote again in a runoff nearly three months from now on May 24. Texans pay more money for this second election – where fewer people vote. It’s a form of suppressing our vote, and it’s bad for voters and candidates alike. Ranked choice voting is a better option.
In crowded elections like the race to succeed Congresswoman Johnson, voters have to game out who has the best chance to win. We don’t take our right to vote lightly, and we don’t want to waste it. So, instead of just supporting the candidate that we most closely align with, we try to figure out who has a real chance to win. The stress and confusion is serious in a nine-person race with few polls.
Then, two candidates emerge from the crowded field to the runoff. The bad news? Three more months of campaigning. Another round of taxpayer-funded elections, which cost Texas about $6.4 million statewide in 2020 (that could pay over 100 teacher salaries in Dallas!). And turnout drops by nearly half.
In the race to succeed Congresswoman Johnson, a runoff is particularly troubling. On March 1, Rep. Crockett won 48.5% of votes – only 1.5 points away from the 50% majority needed to avoid a runoff. Because she fell a few hundred votes short, Crockett will need to campaign for three more months and spend another several hundred thousand dollars to win. Hamilton is in a difficult position, too – she won only 17% of votes in the primary and will be cast as a major underdog over the next three months.
Crockett or Hamilton should be a torchbearer and empowered advocate for the Dallas community. Instead, the winner could be bruised by two tough races, with the support of only a small group of voters.
Ranked choice voting – referred to as RCV – is a proven solution to these problems. Just like in Texas’s elections, RCV requires candidates to get 50% to win. But instead of a separate, expensive, lower-turnout runoff 12 weeks later, there’s just one election.
Here’s how it works: RCV allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. If a candidate wins a majority, they win. If not, it goes to an “instant runoff.” If your top choice doesn’t have a chance at winning, your vote counts for your next choice. A winner is declared when a candidate receives more than half the votes.
RCV can empower voters and candidates alike, giving more voters a say in who wins, putting an end to “strategic voting,” and eliminating runoff elections that are expensive and shrink the power of our voice.
RCV isn’t just an experiment: it has a proven track record across 55 cities, counties and states. A recent report shows how RCV reduces vote-splitting and benefits Black candidates. More Black candidates are winning in elections that use RCV. In fact, Black candidates are twice as likely to win in a RCV election when there are multiple Black candidates in the race. And in cities like New York City, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, ranked choice voting elections have produced the most diverse City Councils ever.
Research has also found that campaigns are less negative and more civil in RCV elections. Voters across the country are already adapting to ranked choice voting and find it easy to use.
As Texas grows both in population and diversity, we should consider how RCV can put more power in the hands of our voters and leaders. It’s amazing that we’re witnessing such a wave of new and diverse candidates running for office. We need a system that rewards the courage of candidates and empowers our community, not one that’s a detriment to democracy. Ranked choice voting can help us get there.
Marvin Randolph is a nationally recognized political campaigns expert who currently serves as president of ONYX Communications and the Southern Elections Fund. Marvin has worked on more than 120 campaigns in 31 states.