Braver Angels/ YouTube

This blog was written by Aaron Kohrs (Center) of the Braver Angels Washington D.C. Alliance. You can contact him at It was edited by James Coan (Center), Co-Chair of the Braver Angels DC Alliance. You can contact him at

To reduce political polarization, we need to change the electoral systems that currently amplify incentives for politicians to be divisive, both in terms of how they act and what they say. One such system that could lessen the desire of those running for and elected to office to engage in polarizing activity is ranked choice voting (RCV)

RCV first involves ranking candidates (e.g., from 1 to 5). If no candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated, and their second-preference choices are reallocated. This process continues until a candidate reaches >50% of total votes. 

A recent Braver Angels-hosted panel focused on RCV included Ryan Suto, a Senior Policy Advisor at FairVote; Matt Germer, Associate Director and Elections Fellow of Governance Program, R Street; and Rebecca Mears, Director of Democracy at the Center for American Progress. The event was moderated by Ankur Shukla, Braver Angels DC Alliance Solutions Exchange Co-Chair and Director at Rank the Vote. The panelists, who came from diverse ideological perspectives and different fields within advocacy, shared broad agreement over the benefits of RCV. Panelists positively viewed RCV’s potential greater use in our electoral contests as a nonpartisan tool that could reduce polarization and create cross-party cooperation.

Suto noted that we already practice functional RCV in our daily lives, as we make choices and sort preferences in everything from food to being asked our favorite superheros. He highlighted two different demographics who attest to the ease of ranking one’s vote in an election: 85% of Alaskans say RCV is simple, as do 95% in NYC. Suto shared that congressional delegations that have been elected through RCV–like Maine’s–are more bipartisan because there is less incentive for candidates and elected officials to engage in purposeful polarization to get elected and reelected. 

Panelists acknowledged that some conservatives are skeptical of RCV because they see this method of voting could result in more liberal or moderate winners of election contests. For instance, Virginia’s 2021 Republican gubernatorial primary that utilized rank-choice voting arguably helped a relatively more moderate candidate, Glenn Youngkin, reach and ultimately win the general election. 

However, Germer explained that those on the right should embrace RCV as a nonpartisan tool that has no inherent result determined. If RCV exists in a conservative area, the system (per the voters) will elect conservative representatives. However, this form of election changes the incentive for candidates to bash opponents and forget political minorities, claimed Germer. RCV can provide an impetus for candidates and elected officials to reach out to those with whom they disagree and work together on certain issues where they can find agreement. Politicians working in an RCV world need some support from at least 50% of the electorate, and they will fight to improve their ranking on ballots, even if they are not the first-choice option for the majority of voters. 

Germer also claimed that some nationally-known examples of RCV that resulted in a Democrat winning over a Republican who might otherwise have won a simple head-to-head matchup do not represent some subversion of the populace. For instance, in Alaska’s Special U.S. House 2022 Election, the winner of this particular contest (Mary Peltola, a Democrat) reached out to Republican voters and won nearly 49% of first-place votes anyway while the Republican candidates (including former VIce Presidential candidate Sarah Palin) did not necessarily do the same for Democratic voters. When politicians properly respond to RCV incentives, it changes their behavior, not necessarily their ideology.

Mears has researched the effects of RCV on state politics and specifically mentioned Alaska’s legislature. She cited an example of a Republican state legislator who had lost a traditional partisan primary, but later came back and won under RCV after reaching out to voters across the aisle and billing herself as a “consensus-builder.” According to Mears, Democratic voters told this Republican legislator that “we may not agree with you all of the time, but we appreciate you including us and governing for everyone.” Mears says her research into the now RCV-elected state legislature in Alaska shows that there is a more functional state government that is accomplishing more than in previous legislative sessions.

Finally, moderator Shukla’s advocacy work includes facilitating grassroots education in Maryland about RCV and its potential positive impact. He sees RCV as providing the average voter with “more voting power” in the sense that selected candidates can be ranked by preference. If one’s first choice candidate does not win, then the voter’s second-choice preference (or even third-choice and so on) could still benefit from their vote. Shukla argued that candidates in a RCV setting, therefore, engage in more coalition-building and less mud-slinging of opponents.

RCV is designed to better reflect the preferences of voters. These panelists believed it has an additional added benefit of reducing political polarization by changing the incentives for candidates and elected officials. The panelists hoped our leaders and fellow voters will choose RCV!