Illinois considers two rank choice voting measures. How? 2023

In practically every municipality in Illinois, voters will pick a single candidate per race in the upcoming April election. Legislation proposed in the Illinois General Assembly might change this.

Last week, the House Ethics and Elections Committee reviewed two measures that would bring ranked choice voting to the state. The model, in which voters choose a first, second, third, etc. candidate, has lately gained popularity in areas such as Alaska.

The city of Evanston, home to Northwestern University, was the first municipality in Illinois to embrace RCV. A November referendum was approved by a large majority and will apply to local elections.

The legislation, House Bill 2807 by state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, and House Bill 3749 by state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, respectively address presidential primaries and municipal and township office campaigns.

Former Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll, who is now a senior fellow at FairVote, a national organization that promotes RCV and election reform, told legislators that the system will benefit voters in Illinois and across the country.

Carroll advocated RCV as a means to avoid the frequent personal assaults in political campaigns and instead concentrate on the issues. He stated that claims that senior citizens and people of color would not comprehend the procedure were untrue and disrespectful.

He served as the first Black House Speaker in Colorado from 2003 until 2011. “Thus, it mitigates against the most radical candidates in both parties.

As of Wednesday, opponents had submitted more witness slips than proponents for both legislation. Among them is Andy Bakker, who addressed the committee on Tuesday on behalf of the Illinois Opportunity Project and Stop Rank Choice Voting Coalition.

RCV would represent a “dramatic shift” in the way Illinoisans vote, and he questioned the benefits claimed by Carroll.

“Rank choice voting is ultimately a technique to decouple elections from issues and allow politicians with minimal support to win,” Bakker added. “It obfuscates meaningful discussion and issue-driven debates between candidates and eliminates actual, true binary options.”

How does it work?

In a ranked-choice system, voters choose their first preference from a list of candidates, followed by their second, third, and perhaps fourth choices.

A candidate automatically wins under RCV if they get a plurality of first-choice votes. In circumstances where no candidate received a majority, such as the recent Chicago mayoral election, an elimination procedure would commence.

The contender with the fewest votes would be removed and their supporters’ votes would be transferred to their second-choice candidate. The procedure would be repeated until a candidate received more than fifty percent of the vote.

Amber McReynolds, a senior political strategist at Issue One, stated that based on RCV statistics from places like Alaska, New York, and California that currently employ RCV, voter turnout has increased while a huge field of candidates has been more effectively managed.

“This is a better voting system to ensure that all voices and preferences are represented in the election outcomes,” she remarked, a Colorado resident originally from Illinois.

Which counties are ready for implementation?

Neither HB 2807 nor HB 3749 have effective dates, nor have they been advanced out of committee, but McReynolds believes the legislation could be enacted rapidly if passed.

She stated that more than 80 percent of Illinois voters reside in jurisdictions using RCV equipment and software. Yet, more than one-third of counties would require revisions.

State Representative Dennis Tipsword, Jr., R-Metamora, expressed worry over the cost of modernizing rural county election systems.

Julie Bliss, county clerk in Boone County, informed committee members that bigger ballots will contribute to the rise in costs. Also, it depends on the voting software employed. Bliss said that each county in Illinois has its own arrangement with voting businesses.

She stated that states with statewide contracts such as Vermont, Georgia, and Rhode Island cut expenses and provide voters with a more consistent experience regardless of county.

She stated that the required software upgrade will cost between $35,000 and $45,000 for the county of Boone, which is home to around 53,000 people.

Don Gray, clerk of Sangamon County, indicated that an upgrade of the county’s Election Systems and Software will cost around $1.8 million. But, a system update would only account for a portion of the costs, he stated. Also, Sangamon County would have to account for extra printing expenses owing to bigger ballots, certification with state and federal election authorities, a software upgrade, and public education about what RCV entails.

Costs might be reduced by aggregating election software at the state level, but Gray wants to know what this means for security safeguards. In addition, he remarked that counties such as Cook, which employs Dominion Voting Services for its tabulation, have varying demands and financial resources in terms of elections.

“In this age of cybercrime, the decentralized nature of how we function now is a tremendous security element.

Our adversaries who wish to undermine the system are required to reach several sites rather than a single, centralized system.

State Representative Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, asked that further study be undertaken before the legislature goes forward with a statewide RCV system due to a lack of cost information. She, like Bliss, advocated for a statewide voting system.

She stated, “I understand the concept, I understand that it works elsewhere, but I recognize that our method does not collect the appropriate data for us to assess.”

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