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U.S. Virgin Islands Aims for Impact in Presidential Primary Politics with Ranked Choice Voting

Credits: Wealth Management

Amidst a Republican presidential primary that has rapidly narrowed down to two major candidates, prompting concerns from voters and state parties about the efficacy of the process.

Dennis Lennox, the executive director of the Republican Party in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is advocating for a change. Lennox believes the USVI’s adoption of a new approach, ranked-choice voting, could potentially bring about a positive shift.

Expressing the need for more states to have a say in the primary process beyond traditional early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Lennox sees ranked choice voting as a means to level the playing field. In the USVI’s GOP caucuses, set to take place on Thursday, four delegates will be awarded using this method.

U.S. Virgin Islands Residents in Presidential Primary (Credits: WUNC)

Under the ranked-choice system, voters select and rank five candidates by preference. The counting process involves eliminating the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes and redistributing those votes among the remaining top four based on voters’ subsequent selections. This process repeats until only two candidates remain, and the one with the most votes emerges as the winner.

Lennox asserts that ranked-choice voting creates a fair and equitable environment for all candidates, eliminating the concept of a wasted vote or a spoiler candidate. Even if candidates no longer in the race appear on the ballot, as long as voters rank a candidate still in contention, their selection will count.

FairVote, a non-partisan group advocating for the broader adoption of ranked-choice voting, highlights that an estimated 5,500 voters in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary cast wasted ballots for withdrawn candidates.

Deb Otis, the director of research and policy at FairVote, argues that the current system is flawed, pushing candidates out prematurely and limiting voter input.

Apart from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Wyoming’s Democratic primary also employs ranked choice, with Alaska and Maine already using it for primaries and general elections. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows notes that the system has boosted voter participation and enhanced civility in politics in her state.

While proponents believe ranked-choice voting could mitigate the spoiler effect of independent or third-party candidates in a general election, critics argue that it might distort results and increase voter confusion.

Jason Snead of the Honest Elections Project, an organization opposed to the change, asserts that ranked-choice voting makes voting and understanding election results more challenging, eroding public confidence in the process.

Historian and George Washington University professor Matt Dallek suggests it is too early to predict the ultimate consequences of this reform, emphasizing that reforms often come with unintended outcomes.

FairVote anticipates growing interest in ranked choice voting as more states explore the possibility, with voters in Nevada and Oregon set to consider the question on this year’s ballot.

The adoption of ranked-choice voting extends beyond primaries, with an increasing number of cities, including New York, incorporating it into their local races.

As the experiment with ranked choice voting unfolds in the United States, its impact and potential ramifications will likely become clearer, with the 2028 presidential race potentially becoming a focal point for this innovative approach to voting.

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