Ranked choice voting is part of the struggle for democracy in the Popular Front

BY:Drew Bradley And Ryan Krueger| May 12, 2024
Ranked choice voting is part of the struggle for democracy in the Popular Front


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

Despite debates occurring within the socialist movement around electoral politics, it remains that the current electoral system is functionally a two party system. It is close to impossible to elect a third party candidate. Because of the winner take all system, third parties can only ever function as spoilers. A left wing candidate will only take votes away from Democrats, helping Republicans win. But our electoral system is not unchangeable: the CPUSA (Party) must consider the movement for ranked choice voting as part of the broad democratic struggle and an aspect of building a stronger Popular Front.

Historically, ranked choice voting was a demand of the progressive movement of the early 1900’s. By 1936, 24 cities had adopted ranked choice voting. With this policy, city councils more accurately reflected the political and racial diversity of the population. With a more democratic voting system, Cincinnati saw its first Black city council members. In the 1940’s two Communist Party members were elected to New York city council. Because of these progressive outcomes, McCarthyites were quick to label ranked choice voting as “a political importation from the Kremlin” and lead a bipartisan campaign to roll back ranked choice voting reforms. Only a handful of cities retained ranked choice voting in the decades to come. A resurgence in interest for ranked choice voting has emerged as contradictions within capitalism have created the need for political parties outside the liberal/conservative dynamic.

In this dynamic, working class mass organizations do not have the option of electing candidates outside of the two capitalist parties. In the 20th and 21st centuries the working class has strategically thrown its weight behind the Democratic Party. As our party recognized in the 1940’s and 50’s, this does not mean that the labor movement, civil rights, women’s, environmentalist, LGBT and peace movements give up their political independence. After all, in order to retain working class movements as part of the Democratic coalition, the political establishment has to cater to their interests in some way. Despite the contradictions of a coalition that includes labor and sections of capital, we won labor reforms, made gains in civil rights, expanded the right to vote, and much more.

These gains are of course not as comprehensive as workers would like and they have not gone far enough to wrest political power from the billionaire finance capitalists. But because there are only two parties, one willing to compromise with mass organizations and one bent on stripping away reforms, the working class is caught in the trap of not being able to fully capitalize on their independence, eroding their organization and political power in the long term. In this situation, where the center dominates the left in the Popular Front, the working class cannot carry out its historical mission of being the leading force in all social progress.

Ranked choice voting will allow us to strengthen the working class element of the Popular Front. With ranked choice voting, working class mass organizations will be able to back candidates that fully reflect their goals in the electoral arena. Even if Democrats move left and scramble to cater to the insurgent anti-monopoly voters, the very possibility that Democrats could lose to further left candidates means more working class leverage over the electoral system. In essence, whether our anti-monopoly party wins or loses, the very fact that it can exist and possibly win an election strengthens the political position of the working class. That is not to say that ranked choice voting will change everything overnight. Third parties, including our party, that strive to build a true anti-monopoly coalition still have to do the work of building this coalition in grassroots struggle.

But with ranked choice voting, the working class will be able to build a viable third party without handing electoral races over to the far right. If our hypothetical anti-monopoly party ran in a race against a Democrat and Republican and did not garner a winning number of votes, our votes would simply be allocated to another non-fascist candidate. Ranked choice voting will allow us to strengthen the anti-monopoly struggle without compromising the critical task of defeating the far-right in the electoral arena.

The movement for ranked choice voting in the United States has seen a recent series of gains in states like Alaska and Maine with it being adopted at certain state level elections. In Michigan last year four cities passed ranked choice voting for city-wide elections but currently suffer from a state-wide ban. The popularity of ranked choice voting can be evidenced by the mass growing appeal of the American public for a third party candidate.

On an organizational level for the Party, engaging in campaigns for ranked choice gives new Party members a way to help us build the Popular and United fronts, making the possibility of socialist and Communist candidates more viable. Especially for at-large members who may not have clubs nearby, the ability to engage with their community on a popular issue is a strategic gain for the party and helps the retention of party members who may otherwise not be able to stay engaged.

With this argument in mind, we are hoping the party will support the movement for more fair and democratic elections. Even though rank choice voting enjoys popular support among the public, the current movement for ranked choice is largely led by nonprofits and those adjacent to the political establishment. There is a real opening for our party to ground the struggle for ranked choice to grassroots working class organizations in a way that liberal PACs cannot. This is a task that should be included in the club guidelines and new member resources. We should involve our party in efforts to pass ranked choice voting on the local and state level and also campaign to remove bans on ranked choice voting where they currently exist.


    Drew Bradley is an activist with the Detroit Club, CPUSA.
    Ryan Krueger is an activist with the West Michigan Regional Collective, CPUSA.

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