Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Ranked Choice Voting Clears Another Hurdle to Ballot Initiative, Paves Way for More Candidates in DC Primaries

A ballot initiative that would introduce ranked-choice voting to Washington, D.C. is one step closer to appearing before the District’s voters after a D.C. Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit March 28 that attempted to block the initiative. 

Ranked-choice voting is a system that allows voters to rank multiple candidates based on their preference. The D.C. ballot initiative, referred to as Initiative 83, would implement a ranked-choice voting system and allow more than 73,000 independent voters who vote in District primary elections to choose nominees for local and presidential elections. 

Ranked-choice votes are tallied in rounds: If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, they win outright. However, if no candidate wins, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and the process continues until a candidate secures a simple majority. 

Will Severn (CAS ’27), a member of the Student Strategy Team with the Institute of Politics and Public Service, said ranked-choice voting could help reverse the trend of declining voter enthusiasm.

“The two-party system does not seem to be working for a lot of people,” Severn told The Hoya. “They want a third, fourth or fifth option. With ranked-choice voting, you have the opportunity to vote for a second candidate and simultaneously elect a feasible candidate that will best represent your interests.”

Supporters of Initiative 83 argue that the ranked-choice voting system demonstrates benefits in increasing diversity and improving voting accessibility. 

Brandon Wu (SFS ’24, GRD ’25), a former chair of Georgetown University College Democrats, said he supports the initiative due to the limitations of the standard ballot, emphasizing the importance of educating voters on changes if a new type of voting were implemented.

DC voters may have the opportunity to participate in ranked choice voting in future primary elections, with the Initiative 83 Voting ballot initiative

“People will generally choose to vote for the safest candidates, and in politics, many of the time the safest candidates are white men,” Wu told The Hoya. “Especially in majority white areas, they may not have seen representation from people of color or of diverse backgrounds because of the inclination to stick to what’s safe.”

Charles Wilson, chair of the D.C. Democratic Party, wrote in a 2021 statement that the Democratic Party’s initial choice to reject the initiative was not right for the District, citing that when voters are given the option to vote for two at large council members in city council elections, more than half of D.C. citizens only vote for one. 

“While ranked choice voting may be suitable for some jurisdictions, The DC Democratic Party believes RCV is not right for the District,” Wilson wrote. “We should introduce measures aimed at strengthening voters’ trust and confidence in the system, not introducing convoluted processes that will further alienate voters and exacerbate the public’s distrust in our electoral process.” 

Georgetown University government professor John Griffin cautioned that ranked-choice voting may decrease voter turnout and exacerbate inequities among those with lower income and education levels due to information costs and the time investment required to participate in this system.

“There is evidence that ranked-choice voting systems tend to disproportionately reduce turnout among less informed, lower-income citizens,” Griffin told The Hoya. “Georgetown students or people with higher levels of education attainment might be more likely to vote in an RCV format, but lower income, less educated citizens might be less likely to vote than they would under a standard ballot.”

Joe Massaua (SFS ’25), a current Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) commissioner, signed the Make All Votes Count petition to implement ranked-choice voting in D.C. and said that while he ultimately supports RCV, he realizes the potential limitations of the system. 

“It’s a confusing voting system,” Massaua told The Hoya. “A lot of voters in general are older so they’ve been voting one way or another their entire lives, and it might be harder to change it.”

“The system we have right now is used throughout the majority of the country because it solidifies the hold of the two major parties,” Massaua added. “It would allow more third parties and candidates to make it through the primary process and potentially win elections.”

Simone Guité (CAS ’26), GUCD’s director of membership, said she is in favor of Initiative 83 and rejected the claim that it would weaken democracy.

“I think it strengthens democracy, if anything,” Guite said. “You get candidates that a large portion of the population is accepting of and not totally against. In that way, it reduces polarization.”

Wu said voter education should be of the utmost priority to guarantee representative results. 

“Voter education is super important,” Wu added. “People are busy with their own lives and may not care about elections, which is fair and normal. As a result, it may not lead to the outcomes that should happen.”

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