MILWAUKEE — The way Wisconsin voters choose their federal representatives could be changing. A group of bipartisan state lawmakers introduced a bill on Wednesday that would implement ranked-choice voting for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives seats.
If passed, the bill would make several changes to how candidates are elected. In a primary election, all candidates would be grouped together regardless of party affiliation. Voters would choose just one candidate from that list.
The top five candidates that advance out of the primary, would then be group together in the general election. Voters would have a choice to pick just one or rank the candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the most top choices, assuming their vote count exceeds 50%, wins.
However, if a candidate does not win a majority, an instant runoff is initiated. In an instant runoff, the candidate with the fewest top choice votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate as their top candidate would then have their second choice counted. That process is repeated until one candidate gains the majority of the vote. Voters would not have to return to the polls in the case of an instant runoff.
State Representative Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) and State Senator Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) are two of the lawmakers behind the bill. They said they hope this voting system helps to tone down political polarization and encourages candidates to reach out to voters across the aisle.
"Everyone in Wisconsin, and across the nation, knows that we have a political problem. And I think part of that problem stems from the process...what the bill does, is it gives everyone a say to a different level as far as who their representation is," said State Sen. Kooyenga.
State Rep Riemer added, "you lay the groundwork for not only opening up a broader set of relationships between elected officials and the people they represent, you lay the groundwork for a democrat understanding how to talk to a republican."
According to Josh Altic, Ballotpedia's Ballot Measures Project Director, between 20 and 30 cities across the country already have a version of ranked-choice voting. It's even less common for ranked-choice voting to be implemented state-wide. But, that could change with more states showing interest in changing voting systems.
"The number of bills we're tracking about different election systems, including ranked-choice voting, have gone up a lot over the last 10 years. There seems to be this increased interest in altering election systems," Altic said.
Ballotpedia also has more information on ranked-choice voting, including a look at the state and municipalities that have already implemented a version of the voting system.