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Wyoming Democrats implementing new ranked-choice voting ballots, among pioneers nationally

Volunteers hold up numbers to signal voters as they enter the polling place in the Industrial Building during the 2018 Wyoming Primary on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — When voters head in to primary or general elections, they may sometimes find themselves in a difficult position.

Their preferred candidate may not appear electable, leading voters to have to decide between voting their values or making a strategic, pragmatic decision.

Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said on Friday, Jan. 24 that Democrats nationwide have been discussing “ranked choice voting” systems.

Ranked choice voting may be a way to eliminate voters’ concerns that they are “wasting” their vote by casting a ballot in support of a less viable candidate.

Moving into the 2020 election season, the Wyoming Democratic Party are implementing some changes to their voting process which include new ranked choice voting ballots.

This graphic depicts the idea behind ranked choice voting. Democrats in Wyoming will be able to select their top five candidates. (Courtesy of the Wyoming Democratic Party)

“It is definitely growing,” Barbuto says of the national conversation. “I think we are kind of leaders.”

The Atlantic reports that Alaska, Hawaii and Kansas are also planning to implement ranked choice voting in their primaries or caucuses, adding that Maine will implement ranked choice voting in the 2020 general election.

“A ranked-choice voting system (RCV) is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots,” Ballotpedia explains. “If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated.”

“First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. This system is sometimes referred to as an instant runoff voting system.”

For the first time, in addition to the Wyoming Democratic caucuses, the party will distribute ballots to registered Wyoming Democrats in the mail. Those ballots will feature ranked choice voting.

(Courtesy of the Wyoming Democratic Party)

People must be registered by March 20 to vote by mail. The party will begin to send out mailing information on Feb. 17.

“The Wyoming Democratic Party will be available for questions and
voters will have the chance to get another ballot sent to them, if the first ballot is misplaced or spoiled,” the party’s Wyoming Delegate Selection Plan reads. “Vote by mailing will end on March 20.

“All ballots must be postmarked no later than March 20, 2020 and received no later than March 28, 2020 in order to be counted as valid.”

Barbuto said that the new system is intended to increase participation among Wyoming Democrats.

“The driving factor in it is including more people in the process,” he said.

The Wyoming Democratic Party’s traditional caucus process also provided the benefit that ranked choice voting ballots allow. Barbuto explains that caucuses are held in each county.

Traditionally, people would stand in a portion of the room to indicate their support for a candidate. When the candidate they prefer didn’t receive 15% of overall support in the room, those voters were able to transfer their vote to another candidate.

The party will still hold caucuses across the state on April 4, but registered Democrats will also be able to vote by mail from Jan. 30 to March 20. They’ll also have the option to vote at their county voter station on March 28.

“Voters who wish to participate in the Caucus process should not have voted prior and will receive a specially marked ‘Caucus Day Ballot,'” the selection plan states. “Voters may then participate in debate and discussion of a traditional Caucus. Following, voters may then drop off their official ‘CaucusDay Ballots,’ in the appropriate space to be counted.”

“Voter stations will give voters the opportunity to drop off the mailed ballots or vote and drop off on March 28, 2020.”

The new ballots will allow people to rank their preferred candidates. Barbuto says that up to five candidates can be ranked on the new ballots.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this,” Barbuto said.

Delegates to represent the party at the June 6 Wyoming Democratic State Convention will also be selected at the caucuses. Those delegates will elect delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Barbuto adds that the caucuses will also help determine the party’s platform.

“The Democratic National Committee has allocated 14 pledged delegates and four Automatic Party Leaders and Elected Officials delegates to Wyoming,” the selection plan states. “Pledged delegates shall be elected by a caucus/convention system.”

“State delegates shall meet in presidential preference caucuses and cast ballots to elect pledged delegates and alternates to the Democratic National
Convention,” the selection plan states. “Any person who will be eligible to vote in Wyoming in the 2020 general election and who meets the filing requirements and other rules noted in this plan shall be allowed to run for any pledged delegate position, regardless of whether they are also state convention delegates.”

Two Democratic candidates have declared they are running to represent Wyoming in the United States Senate. Those are Yana Ludwig and Merav Ben-David.

Carol Hafner has declared she’ll run for the House of Representatives, according to Wyoming Democratic Party.

Oil City News is working to interview these candidates.