Opinion: Ranked-choice voting is the right choice to advance democracy in Montgomery County
By Kathleen Matthews, Lynn Olson, Fran Rothstein, Cynthia Rubenstein, Liza Smith, Cynthia Terrell and Beth Tomasello
The writers are members of the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club Ad Hoc Committee on Advancing Democracy in Maryland.
As the nation looks to its 250th anniversary in 2026, Maryland has an opportunity to be a beacon for our vulnerable democracy and a role model for reforms that will strengthen our democratic processes. As a result, the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club, with hundreds of politically active members, will be advocating for a menu of legislation that empower voters, creates equality of voice and representation, and ensures the responsiveness of government institutions.
Our new ad hoc committee, Advancing Democracy in Maryland, is guided by many of the recommendations of the 2020 report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing Democracy for the 21st Century, issued by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship.
While there are a number of bills that have been introduced in the current legislative session, we believe the number one priority is to adopt House Bill 344, which would allow Montgomery County to adopt ranked-choice voting for local elections for in Montgomery County.
Ranked choice voting is one of Our Common Purpose’s 31 recommendations, and Montgomery County could be a test case for the rest of the state. Ranked-choice voting represents an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first preference votes, they are declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, lifting next preference choices, and the process is repeated until one candidate wins a majority. In an era where many races include multiple candidates, this is a needed reform.
Ranked-choice voting incentivizes positive campaigning. Ranked-choice voting creates incentives for candidates to appeal more broadly and to aim to be at least a voter’s second choice, if not their first. Ranked-choice voting motivates candidates to reach out to voters they might have ignored under plurality rules, and to behave with civility toward competitors.
Ranked-choice voting ensures that a winning candidate has majority support. In our current voting system, candidates can win — and too often do — with less than a majority vote. This is undemocratic and corrodes responsiveness to the electorate, and responsiveness by the electorate. Under ranked-choice voting, winning candidates must achieve 50% +1 of the votes cast, making voters feel their voices are heard.
Ranked-choice voting benefits women candidates and candidates of color. Maryland gets a D grade on Represent Women’s June 2022 Gender Parity Index, which tracks all 50 states on progress towards parity in elective office. Research results to date show that women candidates fare better in jurisdictions that use ranked-choice voting and a Fair Vote study said both candidates and voters who are people of color benefit from ranked-choice voting.
The Women’s Democratic Club has continued to endorse versions of this bill since the 2019 legislative session, but it has never made it to a floor vote. In Montgomery County, ranked-choice voting is supported by the Montgomery County Council, county legislative delegation, League of Women Voters, Do the Most Good, Sierra Club, and Our Revolution.
House Bill 344 calls for an education campaign to fully inform voters about how it will work.
The county board of Arlington County, Virginia voted to use ranked-choice voting in its June 2023 primary elections and has developed a voter education model that would be highly adaptable for Montgomery County. We hope the Maryland General Assembly will see 2023 as the year when our state, too, can lead the way and advance democracy in Maryland and America.