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New Hampshire’s Democrats had a lousy election this year at the state level – every branch of state government is now controlled by Republicans, although the Democrats did hold onto all the federal seats. To compensate, they had some fun when they met to vote for party leader, using ranked-choice voting for the first time.

Here’s a lightly edited release from Tiani Coleman, president of NH Ranked Choice Voting:

Democrats at the State House elected their leader today in caucus, and for the first time used a system of voting known as Ranked Choice Voting (“RCV”), whereby voters rank their preferences, and support is coalesced until a majority winner is found.  It works like runoff elections, but instantly.

The state representatives had four choices: Representatives Doug Ley who was the current Democratic leader, Margie Smith, Matt Wilhelm, and Renny Cushing.  The ballot count went in three rounds until Rep Renny Cushing, current chair of the Criminal Justice Committee and long-time champion of prison reform, abolishing the death penalty and other progressive causes, was declared the leader.

By all accounts the process went smoothly, other than for a handful out of 180 members who seemed to have technical problems unrelated to RCV.

In the first round, Rep. Matt Wilhelm with 28 votes was eliminated, and the ballots cast for him were reallocated to those voters’ second preferences.  Rep. Margie Smith was eliminated in the second round, and the process repeated.  The third round showed that most of the voters who had picked either Reps Wilhelm or Smith, preferred Renny Cushing to Doug Ley, as Rep. Cushing had the final majority.

Rep. Ellen Read, the two-time sponsor of ranked choice voting bills in the House and champion of ranked choice voting says, “There were some people who were hesitant before we began the process, but by the end it had become clear to virtually everyone how easy, smooth and common sense ranked choice voting is.”

Rep. Tim Smith says, “This was a forward-thinking process that truly gave us a consensus pick for our leader.  This allowed everyone to vote their preferences, instead of being forced into any particular 2-candidate choice, and now allows Rep. Cushing to take the leadership with a legitimate mandate and a unified Democratic caucus.”

Maine has been using it statewide since 2018, and Alaska just passed a ballot measure that will implement RCV statewide in general elections.  RCV was narrowly defeated in Massachusetts in 2020, but still got millions of votes and had widespread support by many household names in politics.  RCV is used locally in numerous other locations and is on the agenda for various upcoming legislative sessions.  

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