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A Tale of Two Continents: Ranked Choice Voting in Australia and America

Thu, August 29, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Marriott, Balcony B

Abstract

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is increasingly seen as a practical electoral reform which can deliver more majority-supported victors help to address problems of polarization, civility and vote-splitting. In recent years, the system has been adopted in a number of major U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, and Santa Fe, and, most significantly, for party primaries and U.S. congressional elections in Maine, the first use of this system for national level elections in American history. This first-time November 2018 use of RCV for partisan national-level elections is significant and invites comparative research from other jurisdictions with similar contexts. Australia, which has used single-member RCV for state and national elections for over a century, represents an important comparative case, as another continental-sized federal two-party democracy. The state of New South Wales, which has used the same optional preferential version of RCV used in Maine, offers particularly useful comparisons of issues such as party directions to their supporters during campaigns and consequent impacts of how-to-vote cards, exhausted ballot rates and other impacts on voter behaviour. This paper will therefore compare the widespread adoption of RCV across multiple jurisdictions in Australia, with the much more fractious and episodic experience in the United States. While driven by similar issues of avoiding vote-splitting and ensuring majority victories in both countries, the embedded impacts of RCV after a century of use in Australia have ensured its ongoing support by most political parties, whereas the more recent and contested American experience with RCV has been characterised by multiple repeal attempts and reformers highlighting the broader systemic benefits of the system over its partisan impacts.

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