Bill would allow Nebraska voters to use ranked-choice voting for some elected offices

Chris Dunker | February 18, 2021

Voters in Alaska approved a measure to implement ranked-choice voting last November, making it the second state after Maine to use the voting method.

A state lawmaker in Nebraska has sponsored a proposal that would allow voters in the Cornhusker State to rank their preferences in elections for the Legislature, governor, Congress and the Senate.

The bill (LB125) from Omaha Sen. John McCollister would put ranked-choice voting in place in Nebraska for elections to those offices where three or more candidates are running.

McCollister told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee he believed ranked-choice voting would increase voter satisfaction, provide for efficiencies by eliminating the need to hold separate runoff elections and ensure fairness in elections.

The system allows voters to rank candidates by preference — they would indicate their top preference in the first column, second preference in the next column, and so on — with any candidate gaining more than 50% of the votes being declared the winner.

If no candidate gains a majority after the first-preference votes are counted, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, elevating the second-preference votes on those ballots.

The process would be repeated until a candidate wins a simple majority of the votes cast.

In addition to Maine and Alaska, a total of 26 other U.S. municipalities, and a handful of other countries also conduct elections using the ranked-choice system, senators were told Thursday.

Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek, president of the volunteer organization Rank the Vote Nebraska, said ranked-choice voting has gained support from a broad range of Nebraskans, young and old, urban and rural, and from all political beliefs and backgrounds.

“We’ve come together around this single issue because we want better choices, better candidates,” she told the committee. “We want better ideas for our communities and families, and ranked-choice voting methods will strengthen our elections and improve our representation.”

– Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek, RTV NE President

By allowing voters to rank candidates, third-party and independent voters would be able to cast their top vote for the person of their choice, while then indicating their subsequent preferences, said Tol Robinson, a member of the Nebraska Green Party.

That would cut down on pressure those voters feel to cast a ballot for a candidate they may disagree with on most issues in order to not throw a vote away, Robinson said. It also would ensure the winners of elections emerge with a “consensus mandate” from voters, he added.

“I think that’s vitally important in a democracy,” Robinson said.

Larry R. Bradley told the committee that with ranked-choice voting, a majority of the voters would be able to say they supported the candidate who won on their first or second choice — the candidate they may not feel as strongly about but who they feel they can live with.

Putting the ranked-choice system in place, he said, “is the path to political peace for all of us.”

Bradley said he has done exit polling with voters and found nearly 90% of those surveyed said they understood the system and thought it was easy enough to understand, adding he believes most ballot-counting machines in the state could be easily reconfigured to do ranked-choice elections.

He also said 85% of voters he spoke to after a recent election indicated they would be comfortable with ranked-choice voting going forward.

But opponents to McCollister’s bill weren’t so sure.

Making the switch could be costly, both in having to redesign Nebraska’s ballots and educating election workers, candidates and the public, said Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively, who spoke on behalf of the state’s election commissioners.

Shively also said the bill would only change certain offices to a ranked-choice voting system, while leaving the current system in place for others, which could be confusing to voters.

“There would need to be a substantial education process for all players in the electoral process,” Shively said.

The committee took no action Thursday.

Read the article in the Lincoln Journal Star