The most dangerous phrase in our language

To the editor:

“The most dangerous phrase in our language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.'” — Grace Hopper, U.S. Navy rear admiral

Recent polling shows that dissatisfaction with our two-party system (Democrats and Republicans) is at an all-time high. A record number (62%) of Americans say a third party is needed, and only 33% believe that our two parties are doing an adequate job of representing the public. Political polarization (negative views of opposing party) has gone from 27% in 1974 to 63% in 2022. We are now considered the most polarized wealthy democracy in the world and have reached a level of polarization typically only seen in developing countries.

The two parties have a stranglehold on our democracy, specifically how and who we vote for. Because of this we aren’t likely to see the emergence of a viable third party anytime soon. Gerrymandering, dark money and the “power of the party” have many of us feeling like our votes don’t matter in most elections. It’s no surprise that, to many, it feels like our elected officials are beholden more to their parties, to their campaign supporters and to getting reelected than to passing legislation for the good of their constituents. It has become abundantly clear that the way we are doing democracy is undermining democracy.

However, some states, cities and local governments are beginning to utilize ranked choice voting (RCV) to increase the diversity of candidates and ideas, improve policy and issue-based positive campaigning, and build back confidence in our government. In doing so, they are taking power back from the polarizing and democracy-poisoning two-party system.

In ranked choice elections, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate is the top preference for more than 50% of voters, an instant runoff process starts. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Those votes are then instantly distributed to the candidates listed as a second preference. The process continues until one candidate has gained majority (more than 50%) support.

A recent county election saw a candidate elected with 30% of the vote. Does a person elected with a minority of votes from 3 out of every 10 voters truly represent the majority of their constituents?

RCV has been shown to increase the number and diversity of candidates running, increase voter turnout, increase participation of younger voters, increase candidates’ in-person outreach to voters, and increase the likelihood that voters are more likely to discuss politics with their family, friends and co-workers.

As voters become more disillusioned with the two-party system, we are likely to see a demand to change the way things have always been done. RCV is working in many places in the U.S. and throughout the world. Our local elected bodies can be ahead of the curve by joining other communities in instituting fairer, more balanced elections. RCV would not only encourage our elected representatives to engage more with their constituents, it would ensure that those who are elected truly represent the will of the people.

Jacob Vennie-Vollrath

Saranac Lake



“Support for Third U.S. Political Party at an All-Time High.” https://news.gallup.com/poll/329639/support-third-political-party-high-point.aspx

“America Leads Other Countries Deepening Polarization.” https://siepr.stanford.edu/news/america-leads-other-countries-deepening-polarization

“Americans have increasingly negative views of those in the other political party.” https://www.npr.org/2022/08/13/1117232857/americans-have-increasingly-negative-views-of-those-in-the-other-political-party

“What Happens When Democracies Become Perniciously Polarized?” https://carnegieendowment.org/2022/01/18/what-happens-when-democracies-become-perniciously-polarized-pub-86190

“Don’t Vote for Just One: Ranked Choice Voting Is Gaining Ground” https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2022/12/02/dont-vote-for-just-one-ranked-choice-voting-is-gaining-ground

Franklin County NY 2022 General Election Results. https://www.franklincountyny.gov/departments/administrative/board_of_elections/election_results/2022_general_election.php

“Research and Data on RCV in practice.” https://fairvote.org/resources/data-on-rcv/


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