The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Nashville—What state capital would be a good choice for NCSL’s next election policy meeting? We asked attendees to a session at Summit to help us out—and to do so by using ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Ranked choice voting ballot from WikiCommonsLegislators from four states made 30-second pitches for their home favorites:

  • Jackson, Miss., would be great because it is at the heart of the modern era of voting, dating from the Voting Rights Act, offered Senator David Blount (D).
  • St. Paul, Minn., is the place to be because it’s Minnesota-nice, has well-executed elections and “if you like lakes, we have plenty,” said Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R).
  • Annapolis, Md., would be perfect, considering the long history of democracy in this, one of the nation’s original 13 colonies, said Senator Cheryl Kagan (D).
  • Salt Lake City is all about meeting the needs of visitors, sits right up against mountains that provide winter or summer recreation, and is centrally located to boot, said Representative Steve Handy (R).

First, attendees of this Summit session voted, by ranking the four cities on a paper ballot. Then they “walked” their ballots to the four corners of the room.

The four cities had not too dissimilar votes in this initial “round” of RCV, and no city approached 50%, plus one. The votes were super close, but St. Paul had the least, so the people in the St. Paul corner were redistributed to their second-choice cities.  

Even with just three cities in the running, there was no majority winner, so the next lowest vote-getting city (Jackson) was dropped off, leaving Jackson supporters to head to their next choice among the two remaining cities.

From there, it was just a question of counting the people in the two corners to see who had more votes. Salt Lake City won.

The point of this exercise was not to truly choose a city for an elections meeting. It was to provide a “kinetic learning” opportunity that would show (not tell) how RCV can work. It’s a lot like an in-person caucus if you’ve ever attended one.

From there, the “voters” sat down to learn about the pros and cons of adopting RCV for real elections. If you’re interested, too, see the Summit resources and agenda page or check out the resources from FairVote and the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center.

And, Salt Lake, if you’re reading—we’ll make that meeting happen if you can help find the funding!

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director for Elections and Redistricting.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.