This is the fourth of our weekly tips about campaigning under Ranked Choice Voting. This week we discuss the importance of being prepared to ask for second and lower choices. Keep in mind that it takes at least three candidates for it to be possible for these second and lower choices to determine the winner, so these suggestions will only be helpful for those of you running in wards 2, 5, and 6.
Why ask for more than first choices
While your campaign is likely focused on maximizing the critical first choices, in a multicandidate race, it may be necessary for your campaign to also actively seek second and even lower choices. If you don’t make it above 50% with first choices, support from voters’ second and lower choices will be required for you to win. If another candidate outworks you for support among the lower choices, you can still lose the election even if you secure a plurality of the first choices. This story of the 2010 race for mayor of Oakland illustrates the possible benefit of a strategy to win lower-choice votes.
How to ask for lower-choice votes
If you want people talking to voters on behalf of your campaign to make an effort to secure second choices, it will likely take specific instruction. Experienced volunteers and campaign workers should be familiar with the process of asking for first choices but may be used to ending the conversation after encountering a voter who supports a different candidate. Scripts and training on this process may be necessary. I am always happy to help with a training for your campaign team on RCV.
If you have a system in place to track who a voter supports as their first choice, it should be easy to add in the option to record a second choice. Tracking this should help you evaluate how the vote counting might play out if you are unable to secure a majority of votes in the initial round.
You may also want to think about what you share in common with any of your opponents and what different messages will appeal to their supporters. It is possible that a separate message might be needed to win a second choice depending on who the voter has decided on for a first choice.
Not all second choices are of equal value to your campaign
Although you can only stand to benefit from asking for the second choice from voters set on a different first choice, it is important to keep in mind that the value of a pledge for second-choice support varies by their top preference. The earlier you anticipate one of your opponents is likely to be eliminated in the counting, the more likely it is that their supporters’ second choices could be activated in your favor. Similarly, your campaign should not place as high a value on earning second choices from voters whose first choice is likely to remain active in the final count.