Bipartisan push for ranked-choice voting in Wisconsin

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 10:27 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 10:35 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (AP/WMTV) — The push for ranked-choice voting in Wisconsin is gaining steam with the introduction of a bipartisan bill in the state Legislature.

The move is backed by a Republican congressman and a recently formed coalition of the state’s civic and business leaders. A bill unveiled Wednesday is the first that Republicans have supported on the matter. It would only apply to federal congressional races.

Here’s how the concept would work: Rather than a partisan primary, where Republicans and Democrats separately vote for their candidates, there would be one ballot for everyone running. Voters select their favorite candidate, regardless of political party, and the top five finishers advance to the general election.

In the general election, voters would rank their favorites from first to fifth. If one candidate gets a majority of first place votes, the election is over. If no one has majority, there is an instant run-off election. The lowest vote-getter gets eliminated and anyone who voted for the candidate will have their second favorite counted. This process would repeat until someone gets to the 50 percent mark.

Republican Rep. Tony Kurtz, a co-sponsor of the bill, said this would make elections less politically polarized.

“Everybody is going to have the same say in the primary. I mean, you can still have Republicans, you can still have Democrats, Independents, you can have Progressives. You know, you are all going to be judged the same way, and those top five will go on to the general election,” Rep. Kurtz said.

A measure introduced by Democrats last session didn’t even get a hearing. It’s unclear whether the latest bipartisan bill has the support of Republican legislative leaders.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Smith, another co-sponsor of the measure, said while the bill is in the very early stages, the hope is it will be scheduled for a hearing soon.

“It opens it up for more options for candidates who want to run and choices by voters,” he said.

UW-Whitewater emeritus professor of communications and NBC15 political analyst, Richard Haven, said this would force candidates to have to secure a true majority of the voters.

“It would push candidates to be more focused on the middle and not just on their base. That might be advantageous to how we choose who to send to congress and help people be more focused on the general population,” Haven said.

Haven said there could potentially be a scenario where there are not five total candidates in the primary, but the general process would still look the same.

Opponents say it would be too complicated and open to abuse.

Several states have implemented ranked-choice voting at smaller, local levels. Maine is the only state using the system for state and federal elections, according to Ballotpedia.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.