Ranked Choice Voting: A Path Toward a More Integral Politics


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by Jim Anest

The application of Integral Theory to practical and near-term politics is as difficult as it is important. Because only a small percentage of the population acts consistently from integral levels of awareness, majority rule is problematic for the future of integral politics. Yet democracy (with its many forms and despite its many limitations) retains profound ideological and moral significance. Ranked choice voting (RCV) is a practice that offers considerable promise to begin to address this dilemma. It does so by creating and protecting a more civil commons where more perspectives are included, respect is encouraged, coercion and distortion are minimized, and intersubjective bridging is rewarded. RCV primarily serves an important translative function and improves the legitimacy of elections. It may facilitate transformation and improve the authenticity of elections. This article explains how RCV works, how it promotes more integral leadership, and how it improves the quality of political discourse.

What the world needs now is the first genuinely second-tier form of political philosophy and governance… This is the great and exhilarating call for global politics at the millennium. We are awaiting the new global Founding Fathers and Mothers who will frame an integral system of governance that will call us to our most encompass- ing future, that will act as a gentle pacer of transformation for the entire spiral of human development, honoring each and every wave as it unfolds yet kindly inviting each and all to even greater depth. —Ken Wilber

Proposing a world federation of leaders with integral consciousness is one thing, but building the vehicles that will get us from here to there is quite another. Some of the most respected thinkers on integral politics have proposed some rather elaborate and futuristic governmental structures (e.g., McIntosh, 2007, p. 317). In this article, my intention is to help bridge the gap between theory and practice, conception and execution, and from the cup to the lip for those of us who are thirsty for a politics that expresses more goodness, more truth, and more beauty.

Recently, both Steve McIntosh and Ken Wilber have promoted a more integral politics through changes in systems of governance. McIntosh promotes a tricameral World Federation (McIntosh, 2007, Appendix A) and Wilber a parliamentary system (Wilber, 2008). While these may, in the long run, be important or necessary to a more integral politics, we might see more practical and near-term results by focusing on systems of election. Wilber acknowledged this in a recent lecture (Wilber, 2008). Change to a parliamentary system, for example, would require a wholesale rewriting of the U.S. Constitution.

Elections are about choosing leaders, but more importantly they are a periodic conversation about values, identity, and direction within a society. Several key questions arise: Who is included in that conversation? How adequate is the quality of the conversation to the perceived challenges of the times? How do we create a politics of greater legitimacy (span) and authenticity (depth)? Ken Wilber recently said, “Integral politics is one of the most seriously difficult issues to consider” and, “If less than 10% of the voters are integral, democracy guarantees no integral” (Wilber, 2008). Is the only alternative a “philosopher king”? More probative questions might be: How might an integrally informed 5% to 10% of the population legitimately move us toward a more integrative politics? Are there tools and practices that could effectively move us in that direction? This article argues that there are other more palatable, practical alternatives.

Imagine an election system in which you can vote for your hopes rather than against your fears; where there are no spoiler candidates, no wasted votes, and the influence of negative campaigning and gerrymandering is minimized; where a greater variety of candidates discuss a wider range of policy options; where new and different candidates and parties have a greater incentive to learn from one another and to develop increasing support by building coalitions over time; and where elections become an opportunity for both candidates and voters to express greater honesty, creativity, and responsibility.

Such a politics is not pie-in-the-sky, but is currently being selected as the preferred system of elections in some of the most liberal and conservative communities in the United States and around the world. In this article, I will primarily address elections in the United States because: 1) this is the system with which I am most familiar; 2) U.S. politics carries crucial weight on global issues such as war and the environment; and 3) the U.S. electoral system was created in the 18th century and has missed some important electoral innova- tions that have been created since that time. Ranked choice voting (RCV) is a subset of a category of 19th- century electoral reforms generally described as proportional representation, which was adopted by much of the world in the 20th century. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, there is clearly a need for further research on how these electoral systems are working from an integral perspective.

It appears that the integral community has just begun to think about integral politics as a practical applica- tion. It is time to better complement sound theory with sound practice, and powerful vision with powerful real-world applications. The purpose of this article is to extend that conversation about integral politics in the direction of the more practical, specific, and near-term. I believe that the true test of such efforts must be the extent to which the practices lead to discourse and politics that are more adequate to the challenges of the times. The essential question that remains, of course, is: Adequate to what and to whose ends?

I want to be clear in the onset that I make no claim that RCV is an ideal or “an integral electoral system.” It is, however, a more integrative electoral system. RCV offers a practical path toward a more integral politics, by changing the rules of the electoral game. It does this by first including more honest and diverse perspec- tives and by better rewarding the bridging of those perspectives to solve real-world problems. RCV enhances healthy pluralism, which is a necessary foundation for a more integral politics. Wilber has said that “…it is only from the stage of pluralism (green altitude) that integralism can emerge” (Wilber, 2000a, p. 29).

This article is organized by asking the following questions:

  1. What is ranked choice voting?
  2. Why do we need a more integral electoral system?
  3. What would a more integral politics look like?
  4. How would RCV help us move toward a more integral politics?

For readers who are impatient to learn why I believe that RCV is important to a more integrative politics, go directly to the fourth section. However, most readers will benefit from an explanation of what RCV is before I evaluate its integrative merit.