Basic historic facts about ranked choice voting

Below are two key dates for anyone writing about “ranked choice” or “preferential” voting in US elections.

1909: first adoption of majoritarian form for public elections (Grand Junction, CO);

1915: first adoption of proportional form for public elections (Ashtabula, OH).

There was use of the majoritarian form in some party primaries, but I cannot find any evidence of this prior to the Grand Junction adoption.

And there was earlier use of the proportional form, around 1911 and/or 1912, in the single-tax colonies of Arden (DE) and Halidon (ME).

The motivation for this post is a recent article flagging the 1940s as the start of US experimentation with preferential voting rules. As far as I can tell, this information passed to the journalist from a political scientist.

The reform wave in context

Fractious, supermajority parties, then and now

This post is on the connection between oversized majorities and waves of political reform. Here I am thinking about ranked-choice voting in historical context, though one might say the same about direct primaries. I think reforms like this take off when:

1) Most people lean to one side of the ideological spectrum;

2) But that side of the spectrum has serious, internal cleavages.

The basic idea is that the logic of minimum-winning coalition is not holding in some way. The political majority is oversized, so much of the action is inside it. That fighting finds expression first as party splits, then as reforms to foster coordination. I have floated this hypothesis before. Others are starting to touch on it. Let’s look at some data.

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Evolution of the American proportional representation movement

In seeking an explanation for why several cities once adopted PR-STV, I sometimes encounter the following hypothesis. Among myriad goo-goo reform ideas, PR was unusually obscure, and that’s why it only happened in 24 places.

Obscurity could not have been the cause of PR’s rarity, and I’ll show you why below.

Continue reading “Evolution of the American proportional representation movement”