Those eligible to vote, and who take part in exercising that right, know ballots offer minimal choice. Yes or No, this candidate or the other. The process is essentially the same across the U.S. Winner takes all.

Enter ranked choice voting: a system that, simply put, permits voters to rank multiple candidates from most favorable to least favorable.

It has been adopted elsewhere. Now the village of Oak Park is considering putting the new method up for a referendum, with Trustee Jim Taglia leading the charge.

“If we can help people become interested in voting, it’s our duty to do that,” he said.

Ranked choice voting is actually centuries old, but interest has been building lately. Ranked choice voting (RCV) for general elections was implemented in Alaska earlier this year. A similar measure to implement RCV passed in Nevada this year. In Maine, voters use it for primaries and federal general elections. RCV is being implemented closer to home, too; in the Nov. 8 election, 82.58% of Evanston residents voted in favor of RCV.

For cinephiles, ranked choice voting is the system used yearly by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to determine which film will be awarded the Best Picture Oscar.

Taglia told Wednesday Journal he has seen a remarkable groundswell of public interest in ranked choice. That led him to request the presentation of an educational program on the subject to the village board, Nov. 7. Trustee Ravi Parakkat seconded the request.

Parakkat attributes the interest in ranked choice to the public’s frustration with the inefficiencies of this country’s current governmental logjam and the limitations of having only two major political parties.

“The reason why [RCV] is gaining some ground, I believe, is because of our two-party system, and the level of polarization that we’ve seen in our politics at various levels,” said Parakkat. “This seems to counter some of that.”

If the system is adopted in Oak Park, both Taglia and Parakkat believe voter dissatisfaction would decrease, leading to larger turnout. They also believe it will help to reduce political polarization, a view shared by RCV proponents.

The village board cannot simply implement ranked choice for future election cycles, however. It’s up to the voters. Any changes to the current voting system must be adopted through a referendum. This is required under the Illinois Constitution, which stipulates that a “home rule municipality shall have the power to provide for its officers, their manner of selection and terms of office only as approved by referendum.”

The village board does have a major hand in the process, however. It must vote to put the referendum on the ballot, but it is unlikely such a referendum will be in the April 4 consolidated election. The village board, aside from Taglia and Parakkat, voted down a motion to direct staff to draft an ordinance that would put it on that ballot.

That wasn’t because the majority of the village board is against ranked choice. Rather, those members believed staff would not have enough time to put together an ordinance and adequately educate voters ahead of the election.

The village board instead directed staff to schedule a study session in the first quarter of 2023. That could happen as early as February, according to Village Manager Kevin Jackson.

While Oak Park often follows Evanston’s lead, as with discussions on reparations, our referendum would be different.

“The referendum adopted by the voters of the city of Evanston at the November 2022 election is not necessarily a fit for the village due to the method that Evanston elects its alderpersons,” said Village Attorney Paul Stephanides.

Evanston has a total of nine wards and voters elect alderpersons per ward, whereas Oak Park voters elect village trustees at large, three at a time.

The method by which weight will be distributed among ranked votes in a way that works for Oak Park will be discussed in the study session. Will Cook County be prepared for the change?

Taglia isn’t worried. If a referendum passed in April, he said, it wouldn’t go into effect until the following year or so. But a firm deadline would compel the county to enact standards and procedures to accommodate RCV.

“If you wait for them to be ready, it’ll be 100 years,” he said.

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