I participated in 13 elections spread over four different decades. I lost my first election in 1988, a general for the State Senate and my last, for the mayor, in 2018. In between, I won two primary elections (one for the State Senate and one for State House) and nine general elections (four for State Senate, two for State House and three for Mitchell City Council). In three of these elections, I had no majority.
In my two races as a state representative, I was the best voter in the vote, being the second choice of the electorate. Let me explain that there were four candidates and that people could vote for two. If four different voters voted for four different first choices, the tally could look like this; Candidate 1 Olson / Candidate 2, Candidate 2 / Olson, Candidate 3 / Olson, Candidate 4 / Olson resulting in Olson four votes, Candidate 2 with two votes and the others with one vote each. Often a percentage of wins was in the 1930s, barely a term. My first municipal council election saw me win with a single vote below the majority in three candidates.
The question is whether the majority should decide? If so, how can a majority result be obtained in an election with several candidates or in the case of an equal result? The National Council of State Legislatures reports that in the event of a tie in the legislative races for the State Senate or the State Chamber: 27 States will draw the straw; 15 states have second round elections; the states of Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia allow the State Electoral Council or the governor to decide; in the case of Nevada and New Hampshire, a tie is broken by a joint vote of the Legislative Assembly, and there are also various other decision-making mechanisms in a handful of other states.
The Washington Post reports that 35 states decide to block municipal and federal elections for Congress by drawing straws or tossing a coin with states like Nevada and Arizona cutting a deck of cards.
Is there a better way? I think so and Maine has found it. Maine adopted ranking voting in 2016 and used it in all of its national and federal elections in 2018. Maine will use it for all of its elections, including the presidential poll, in 2020. Several municipalities are also using this system. ; Minneapolis and St. Paul do, San Francisco do as well as Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cambridge, Massachusetts and other municipalities with New York which should follow in 2021.
Imagine for a moment that Mitchell had ranked the votes for the 2018 mayoral race. People would have voted for the four candidates in ranking order 1, 2, 3, 4. Bob Everson won this race by winning a plurality of votes in a group of four candidates.
However, during a classification vote, the election is not over until a candidate has obtained the majority of the votes cast. In ranked votes, where there is no majority, the lowest candidate is removed and their second choice obtains the appropriate votes. Steve Larson was the fourth candidate, so he would have been dismissed, but his electors’ second choices for Everson, Olson and Volesky would have been tabulated and added to the original totals for these three candidates. If one of the other three had a majority, the election is over.
If this is not the case, in the same way, the next lowest candidate would be abandoned and these second choice votes distributed. At this point, the election is over – with a majority winner or a tie to be broken in one way or another, my preference is a second round election.
I always trusted the voters and respected their judgment. People don’t always know what they want, but they always know what they don’t want. I think that a hierarchical voting system would clearly have produced a mandate for Mayor Bob Everson. I hope Bob will continue his good work and run for re-election when the time comes.