After Omaha’s primary election results, is rank choice voting the path forward?

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Hannah Michelle Bussa
CONTRIBUTOR

Rank choice voting has been discussed in Nebraska, but after Omaha’s primary election, conversation about it has increased. Photo courtesy of Rank the Vote Nebraska via Facebook.

After Omaha’s primary on April 6, discussions about rank choice voting were brought to the forefront. Specifically in the mayoral race, rank choice voting could have changed the results of the election.

Former candidate for U.S. Senate Angie Philips discussed rank choice voting (RCV).

“RCV is a method of voting in which people rank their candidates from most favored to least favored and requires the winner to obtain a majority of the vote,” she said.

Philips said RCV allows for more than one marginalized candidate to run without concern of “splitting the vote” between similar candidates.

In the mayoral primary specifically, the idea of “splitting the vote” between Black candidates was on display.

After having been involved in local politics for a few years now, through working on Kara Eastman’s congressional campaigns in both 2018 and 2020, and then as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Jasmine Harris’ mayoral campaign, Jaden Perkins has shared frustration about how the current system works.

Perkins was notably frustrated with Kara Eastman’s decision to sell her email list, which can include fundraising data, to RJ Neary before she endorsed Kimara Snipes.

“I felt like those lists were very valuable and could have been very valuable to a Black candidate like Jasmine or Kimara,” Perkins said.

Kimara Snipes said Eastman did give her the opportunity to purchase the list. She pointed out that Kara Eastman did endorse her in the race for Mayor of Omaha.

“Voters appear to be ahead of the donors,” Snipes said. “There were several votes for Black women, but donor support was minimal compared to that of RJ Neary and Jean Stothert and Mark Gudgel. Voters came out in support of Black women in larger numbers than donors did.”

Perkins said that rank choice voting could have helped prevent this situation. RCV would also help hold those in the political community accountable.

“Implementing rank choice voting would mean that voters no longer have to choose between the ‘lesser of two evils,’” Perkins said. “They’re no longer wasting their vote on a mediocre candidate.”

Rank the Vote Nebraska is a group that is working to implement this option in Nebraska. They started as a small group of people working to improve elections and are growing as awareness about RCV spreads. They have statewide meetings on Zoom the first Thursday of every month.

Treasurer Kimberly Jones said that RCV ensures the winner has the majority support of the electorate they will be representing.

“RCV in Nebraska would ensure that electoral outcomes represent the true preferences of the majority of Nebraska voters,” Jones said. “The minority would no longer be able to defeat the majority. This voting method not only ensures winners are preferred by the majority of voters, but also eliminates the spoiler effect – where two similar candidates split the vote, or third-party voters are afraid to vote for a third party that would result in their least preferred candidate winning.”

Philips echoed this benefit to RCV: “It would allow us to celebrate when more than one woman, BIPOC, or other person from a marginalized group ran for office rather than work to limit the number of candidates. It would also encourage candidates to work together in order to earn a ‘second choice’ vote from other candidate’s supporters. Frequently women and other marginalized candidates are pitted against each other. RCV would create an environment that encourages collaboration.”

Philips said that, in 2018, Fair Vote conducted a review of areas with RCV. They found it led to an increase of women and people of color being elected. As our current system was designed to advance wealthy, white men, RCV could help bring equity to campaigning. It would increase representation of people in marginalized communities.

Jones said that charter cities in Nebraska would have to hold an election to amend the Charter to allow the use of RCV in local elections. For other cities in Nebraska, a state law has to be passed to amend election law to allow local municipalities to use RCV if they choose.

State Senator John McCollister sponsored LB 125, which would provide for RCV in certain elections.

“Like Maine, the process would start for the national elections for House and Senate and President,” McCollister said. “Local jurisdictions could adopt RCV if they so choose.”

“While several cities across the country have implemented RCV in their municipalities, I support LB 125 moving forward to the floor of the state legislature for debates, as cities moving individually to RCV can be costly,” Philips said.

Jones said the most important way to help right now is for readers to call or email their state senators and the members of the Government and Military Committee to urge them to advance LB 125.

McCollister said people can also write a letter to the Omaha World Herald Public Pulse in support of LB 125. Since this bill minimizes their power, political parties currently do not support it.

“I sincerely hope that we are able to implement RCV here in Nebraska,” Jones said. “We at Rank the Vote Nebraska believe that it will improve not only our elections but also our relationships with our fellow Nebraskans when voters feel confident that those we elect to office represent the true majority of our citizens. Candidates will be more accountable to those they represent, and everyone will feel that their vote truly counts and their voices are heard.”

“It’s entirely fitting that Nebraska should adopt RCV,” McCollister said. “As time goes on, RCV will become popular around the country.”

To learn more or get involved with Rank the Vote Nebraska, visit linktr.ee/rankthevotene.

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