City Council members are scheduled to vote Monday on whether to place a binding referendum on the November ballot asking Evanstonians whether they want to use ranked choice voting in future municipal elections.

Under ranked choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, voters are not limited to casting a vote for a single candidate for a particular office.

Instead, they can opt to rank the candidates in order of their preference.

If a candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, that candidate wins.

If no candidate gets a majority of first choice votes, the candidate with the smallest number of first choice votes is eliminated, and those voters have their votes reassigned to their second choice candidates.

The elimination process is repeated until one candidate has a majority of votes and wins the election.

The referendum proposal is backed by Mayor Daniel Biss, and the Rules Committee voted unanimously to forward the measure to the City Council.

But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) has since said he’s opposed to ranked choice voting, claiming it leads to more voter confusion.

Voters in Berwyn last month approved an advisory referendum on ranked choice voting by a wide margin. But referendum approval by Evanston voters would apparently make Evanston the first city in Illinois to actually implement the system.


Related: How does ranked choice voting work? (WTTW)


Ranked choice voting has been used for decades in a variety of generally liberal communities — including San Francisco, Berkeley and other cities in California’s San Francisco Bay area

It also was used for the first time last year in New York City, where it is seen as having led to the election of a more middle-of-the road candidate, Eric Adams, as mayor.

But the concept has come in for criticism from some conservative commentators, notably at the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve heard anecdotally of problems with ranked-choice voting, so I clicked on the WSJ op-ed linked at the bottom and expected to see compelling arguments, shared by a Harvard professor. Instead, the reasons provided in that op-ed seemed not only inane but baseless. It actually left me more in favor of bringing ranked-choice to Evanston.

  2. I am strongly in favor of bringing RCV to Evanston – I even reached out to my councilmember (Melissa Wynne) to confirm she was also in favor (she is). I think RCV has the potential to improve the odds of moderate candidates who may not necessarily win an outright plurality but are generally preferred over more extreme candidates. The usual commentators around here that are anti-Devon Reid should be in favor of RCV because it hurts candidates like him, who have a strong supportive base who always show up in primaries for him but are not popular generally. I only wish this applied to the D65 elections as well. Other states and places have implemented RCV (as you mention) and I think have been a net positive.

    Downside to RCV is that you may end up electing candidates that are “everyone’s second choice” – some may view that as a positive.

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