Ranked voting an unlikely path for College Station

By Mary Ann Powell, Deputy City Attorney

Whatever your political opinions are, we can all agree on one thing — voting is essential.

Various factions push an array of voting reforms to solve whatever problems they perceive in the way we elect our leaders. In parts of the country, a concept called ranked-choice voting has captured the imagination of some as a way to eliminate costly run-off elections.

In College Station, we went a year with a vacant city council seat because the COVID-19 pandemic forced delays in a run-off stemming from the November 2019 election.  

Ranked-choice voting is an election system that would apply when more than two candidates run for a public office. Voters rank their choices in order of preference. Suppose no candidate receives 50% of the votes. In that case, the candidate receiving the least “1” votes is eliminated, the second choice of the eliminated candidate’s voters is distributed among the remaining candidates, and so on.  

The process continues until a candidate receives a majority of the votes and is declared the winner.

Ranked-choice voting would eliminate run-off elections while ensuring the winning candidate reflects the preferences of a majority of voters, reducing the chances of a less-preferred candidate playing the role of a spoiler.

However, some experts say the system’s complexity may also confuse many voters and election administrators. They also argue that ranked-choice voting is manipulative and runs counter to the democratic process when voter confidence in the system is already low, at least in national elections. 

Could ranked-choice voting happen in College Station? It’s unlikely.

As enticing as some may find the concept — it’s been adopted in about 20 U.S. cities — it isn’t allowed under the Texas Constitution. Amending the constitution requires approval by two-thirds of each house of the legislature, then several state statutes would need to be overturned.

Finally, for College Station to adopt ranked-choice voting, residents would have to approve it in a city charter election. 

In other words, it can’t happen any time soon.

About the Blogger
About the Blogger

Mary Ann Powell has been the city’s deputy city attorney since 2015. She has almost three decades of municipal legal experience, previously serving as city attorney in Sugar Land and Missouri City and as assistant city attorney in College Station and Missouri City. An Iowa native, Mary Ann received a bachelor of arts from St. Louis University in 1981 and a doctor of jurisprudence from the University of Houston Law School in 1986.

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