University of Montana student Cameron Ransford voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the 2016 presidential election. Although he struggled throughout the campaign to choose between Stein and Hillary Clinton, many saw Ransford's choice as a vote for President Donald Trump.
“People said, ‘A vote for anyone but Hillary is a vote for Donald Trump,’” Ransford said.
Although Ransford, 21, said he knew it was almost impossible for Stein to win the election, he and many Americans felt morally opposed to Clinton’s actions and contributions to global conflicts, her history of “flip-flopping” and her tendency to side with corporations.
Ransford, a community health major, said while he had planned on voting for Clinton in the general election, he changed his mind about a month prior to the election after deeper research into the candidate’s political past.
Still, Ransford said many of his friends “caved” and voted for Clinton, despite their moral inflictions, while many remained torn between the candidates until the very day of the election. Ransford said if Trump had been closer to Clinton in the polls, he may have cast his vote Clinton’s way “just to stop Trump.”
The dilemma Ransford experienced was similar to the one felt by many citizens across the nation — the choice between a supposedly morally sound candidate and a “lesser” evil. But that painful choice could be avoided in future elections, according to Ransford, through “ranked-choice” or “instant-runoff” voting, a system in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference.
“That way, you could vote for the candidate of your choosing without contributing to the victory of someone like Trump,” Ransford said. “I definitely think it would help people going through a similar dilemma of being morally against Clinton and more so against Trump.”
Montana State Green Party Coordinator Danielle Breck said, in a ranked-choice voting system, if none of the candidates win a clear majority — 15 percent of the votes or more — the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated. Any ballots cast with that candidate as the first choice are then re-counted as votes for the second choices listed.
While voting, citizens would simply list their first, second and third candidate choices in order of preference.
The system is simple, according to Breck, and works efficiently today in other countries where there are typically candidates representing several parties.
“The big plus is for third party candidates because voters often feel like they can’t vote for third party candidates without splitting the vote,” Breck said, referencing a phenomenon that occurs when two similar candidates run in the same election, thus reducing the chances of either candidate beating a significantly different candidate.
“This eliminates that problem,” Breck said. “It makes it so that third party candidates could be in the race, and it gives those voters who would rather vote for third party the chance to do so without fear of the bad guy getting elected.”
Breck said the Green Party has always pushed for a ranked-choice voting system, but making change on a national level can be difficult without local and statewide support. Fortunately, Breck said ranked-choice voting can be implemented on the most local of levels and could even be used in Missoula City Council and county elections.
Various cities in California, Colorado, Maryland and Minnesota have used ranked-choice voting for years in local elections, according to data compiled by fairvote.org, while cities in several other states are still awaiting ranked-choice implementation. Still, Maine is the only state using a ranked-choice voting system for all statewide and congressional elections, a change the state voted for in 2016.
Breck said the first step to Montana implementing ranked-choice voting is passing legislation for the system on a local level, starting with city council and rippling to county, state and national. Breck said it’s important for voters to see systems like ranked-choice voting work in their communities before they allow it to work on a larger scale.
“If we could write and pass local legislation, that would be a wonderful way to see that this works,” Breck said. “This model has been used successfully all over the world in democratic countries for years.”
Antonio Morsette, an environmental studies and art student and former ASUM senator, said implementing ranked-choice voting on the campus level could be the first step in Missoula’s City Council taking notice.
Morsette said if ASUM used a ranked-choice voting system in its student presidential elections, it could raise student and professor awareness of the model, thus showing a large percent of Missoula’s population a new, efficient voting system.
This is how Columbus Day became officially recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to Morsette, after Montana State University announced its decision to rededicate the day, followed by several cities in Montana and the state itself.
“We really love ranked-choice voting,” Morsette said, referring to his affiliation with the Montana State Green Party. “If you implement it at a local level, it proves to people the system works. That’s generally how politics work. So if ASUM could take it on, that would be as local as possible.”