How Women are Fighting for More Equitable Elections Through Ranked-Choice Voting

An end to voter suppression in the U.S. might be possible through ranked-choice voting and elections that operate outside party lines. 

Reps. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) outside the U.S. Capitol on May 25, 2023. (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Women hold 53 percent of seats in city legislatures that use ranked-choice voting, compared to 22 percent of all local offices, according to data released earlier this year by RepresentWomen

The third annual Democracy Solutions Summit put on by RepresentWomen took place March 5-7 following Super Tuesday. The free virtual event hosted conversations on the state of ranked-choice voting, strategies to elect our first woman president and shifting paradigms of power through a global movement. 

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference, in contrast to the standard U.S. system where voters pick one candidate to win. RCV helps to revitalize voter participation in a democracy because it requires voters to look beyond the two party system—voters must evaluate candidates by what they stand for over the political party they align themselves with. 

“Campaigns are a more civil process under ranked-choice voting,” said Alliana Salanguit, deputy director for Alaskans for Better Elections

In the U.S., many state and city systems using RCV—Alaska, for example—emulate what voting reform might look like on a national level. 

“I’m really looking at ranked-choice voting, or systems like ranked-choice voting with open primaries, as the ends to really trying to help heal our nation,” said Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska). 

Alaska Implements RCV

In 2020, Alaskans voted to establish a RCV general election system with strong bipartisan support. On top of this system, Alaska became the first state to implement a top-four non-partisan primary in 2022. This means that in Alaska’s primary elections candidates all appear on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation and the top four candidates progress on to the general election. 

“This open primary blew the doors open,” said Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Alaska). “Ranked-choice voting may not affect who wins, but it definitely affects who runs.”

Rep. Peltola, who ran under a ranked-choice voting system, noted that RCV does not necessarily favor one political party over another. She gave the example of Alaska having elected both herself and Gov. Mike Duneavey, one of the most conservative governors in the U.S. 

Ranked-choice voting may not affect who wins, but it definitely affects who runs.

Sen. Cathy Giessel

“I really loved it because you cannot just message to 20 percent. You have to be messaging to everyone… We did need second choice rankings, and that did make the difference,” said Peltola. 

With ranked-choice voting successfully in effect, Alaskans have now experienced the positive aspects of the reform. However, this leaves supporters of RCV playing defense as the Alaska House Judiciary Committee voted earlier this year to advance a bill that would repeal RCV and open primaries.

In working against this bill, Salanguit mentioned the importance of maintaining positive relationships with Alaskans and politicians alike.

“Alaska is a small town that just happens to be a state,” said Salanguit.

Therefore, it is key to have trusted grassroots connections in order to win Alaskan elections. 

Protecting the win is crucial. Salanguit shared that Alaskans for Better Elections has been ensuring that voters are able to navigate the new system. They have been all over the state—it should be noted that Alaska is huge, larger than all European countries—to work with partners serving diverse constituencies. 

“Those efforts really resulted in a successful election. We saw a really low error rate, and a majority of Alaskans ended up ranking candidates instead of bullet voting,” said Salanguit. “Now we have data that shows Alaskans that open primaries and rank choice voting works for us. And that’s the big difference between being on offense and defense. Alaskans have now experienced the reform we have factual data that dispels a lot of the initial concerns.”

RCV on the Ballot in Oregon

Meanwhile, in the contiguous 48 states, RCV initiatives have been brewing in Washington, D.C., and Oregon. 

Sol Mora, political director at Oregon Ranked-Choice Voting Advocates, shared that the multi-year process to establish RCV in Portland began in 2021. In 2022, Portland voters passed RCV and multi-member districts with 58 percent of the vote. Mora credits much of this success to normalization and education about RCV to voters.

“This is not that scary—ranking whatever you would like and your order of preference is actually something that is very intuitive,” said Mora. 

Mora shared an anecdote of going into legislative offices and having legislators use RCV to rank their favorite candies in order to demonstrate RCV’s intuitive nature. Afterwards, legislative offices shared that it was their favorite lobbying campaign. 

This is not that scary—ranking whatever you would like and your order of preference is actually something that is very intuitive.

Sol Mora

This year, a RCV ballot measure was referred by Oregon’s state legislature, but Mora noted that working and passing RCV at the local level in Portland first was helpful in getting RCV to the ballot. 

This November, Oregon voters will cast their ballots to decide whether the state will implement RCV for statewide and federal elections. If passed, voters would see an implementation of the system in 2028. 

D.C.’s RCV Ballot Initiative

Make All Votes Count D.C., a group working on ending voter suppression through RCV in Washington, D.C., is currently collecting signatures for Ballot Initiative 83. Aiming for the Nov. 2024 ballot, the initiative seeks to implement RCV allowing voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference and “permit any voter who is not registered with a political party to vote in the primary election of that voter’s choosing for all offices.”

Since the ballot initiative has been in order, the D.C. Democratic Party has filed two lawsuits against the board of elections, the mayor and the city claiming that it violates local law and the constitution. 

“They filed two suits. One’s been tossed out and another one is still on the docket, and they’re kicking the can,” said Lisa Rice, chair of Make All Votes Count D.C.

Rice, like 71,000 other voters in D.C., is not affiliated to any one political party. Under the current system, unaffiliated voters are excluded from D.C.’s primary election. While Rice noted that Alaska’s model would have been ideal, D.C. is governed by the Home Rule Charter. Implemented by Congress in the 70’s, it mandates partisan primaries. 

RCV in the primary is especially important in places like D.C. that lean strongly towards one political party or another. In D.C.’s case, whoever wins the Democratic primary has a greater chance of winning the election. 

“D.C. is a super majority, democratic, big ‘D’ town, and so the primary is the election that matters,” said Rice. “You have people going into office that were elected by a very slim portion of the electorate. Let’s say I’m council member A and I won my primary with 30 percent, 30 percent of voters came out to vote—do the math.”

How You Can Support RCV

In Alaska, Salanguit said that the best thing people can do to support RCV initiatives is to keep the momentum going in other states. In combating potential ballot measures against RCV, it helps to be able to point to other states that have also successfully implemented the system. 

You can go to to sign up for Oregon Ranked-Choice Voting Advocates’ newsletter and other opportunities to engage. Mora noted the importance of using social media to enhance peer to peer communication to promote these ballot measures looking to implement RCV. 

Rice noted that Make All Votes Count D.C. needs volunteers for signature collecting and event hosting. You can look into their volunteer options here. They also are looking for donations so that they are able to pay some of their signature collectors. 

“We want to have a majority. We want people who are in office and accountable to a majority of voters. Ranked-choice voting does that for us,” said Rice. 

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Livia Follet is an editorial intern for Ms. and a recent graduate from The University of Colorado Boulder where she earned bachelor's degrees in English literature and women and gender studies. Raised in rural Colorado, her interests include environmental justice movements, Indigenous feminisms and reproductive justice.