FairVote's New CEO: Ranked Choice Voting Adds Much Needed Value for Voters

The nonpartisan better elections group FairVote has welcomed a new president and CEO at a time when one of its principal reforms, ranked choice voting, is riding a momentous wave across the US.

Meredith Sumpter, whose work spans across the private and public sectors, was appointed by the FairVote Board in a unanimous vote. 

“I am coming in at an exciting time for FairVote as it is planning for the next four years of advancing ranked choice voting,” she said in an interview for IVN. 

Sumpter most recently served as CEO and board president for the Council for Inclusive Capitalism and the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, which she founded and worked on for more than 3 years. 

She also holds an advisory position at Harvard University and New America and has worked on US policy issues at all levels of government.

“My background has been in roles in which I was often working to drive or enable opportunity for everyday people, and my interest is in how systems are working so that they are meeting the needs of everyday people,” she said.

Sumpter explained that her work with Inclusive Capitalism focused on the extent to which US capitalism created and drove value for people who make up an economy. Now, her focus has shifted to value creation in the electoral process. 

“FairVote is about governance health and electoral reform that is meant to drive better value for voters, as well as to enable electeds to do the leading, the legislating, and the governing that leads to problems being solved,” she remarked. 

She started in her new role on April 1, but her conversations with FairVote go back to November 2023. It was at this time that she started to read up on ranked choice voting as a system and what it can do for voters. Her research led her to one conclusion. 

“There are many reforms out there, and while there is no one silver bullet that is able to fix all the things that we need to fix and make progress on in our country, ranked choice voting works,” she said.

Ranked choice voting (RCV) gives voters an opportunity to rank candidates in order of preference (1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, etc.). First choice selections are tallied and if no candidate gets over 50%, the last place candidate is eliminated, and their voters’ next choices are applied to the results.

The process continues until a single candidate has a majority.

RCV is the fastest growing nonpartisan voting reform in the US. It has been adopted at the statewide level in two states, Alaska and Maine. Nevada voters could implement its use in November alongside nonpartisan primaries – a reform combo that could also appear on Idaho’s ballot.

The alternative voting method has been used in red states and blue states. It has been used by both major political parties in states like Utah and Virginia. It is in use in 3 counties and 45 cities, including the nation’s largest city, New York City. 

RCV has also been approved for implementation in 8 additional cities and 1 county, including Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. In fact, the last 27 consecutive RCV ballot measures across the US were approved by voters.

“We could see in November a tripling of the states that are using ranked choice voting,” said Sumpter. She believes there is a good reason behind its meteoric rise in the last few years. 

“Everywhere it is in play, it drives higher levels of voter engagement. You have more representative outcomes – but the thing I love most about it is it gets to that structural incentive for elected leaders who want to win and stay in office to create value,” she explained.

She added that this doesn’t mean for a narrow segment of a party’s base, as the current system incentivizes, but an elected official’s constituency at-large. She added that increased voter satisfaction shows that RCV’s results speak for themselves. 

“They (the candidates) have to be strong and have that strong party base, but they also have to be able to meet the needs of constituents outside their party’s base and be that second-choice vote or in some cases that third-choice vote to win,” she added. 

The growing momentum for RCV has not gone unchecked. Some states have moved to ban its use entirely. Lawmakers in 8 states have been successful so far: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

However, Sumpter is not deterred by these efforts and remains confident in the continued momentum of the reform.

“The growing opposition is a sign that the movement is winning,” she said. 

The role FairVote has played and will continue to play in fighting back these bills is to work with state and local groups to make sure they have the most up-to-date research, help them connect with lawmakers, and connect them with election officials and legislators in other states who can speak to the success of RCV. 

Sumpter said that news outlets like to focus on the bans, but the other side to the story is that the number of pro-RCV bills doubled in the most recent legislative cycle in half of US states. 

“The reform has taken off, not because it is a gimmick, but because it works,” she remarked. 

The continued success of RCV will come from groups like FairVote being able to show what the reform can do and, in Sumpter’s words, “utilize the stories from communities, states, and voters on why they like ranked choice voting.”

“What it means in terms of their engagement and who represents them and how elected officials are incentivized to deliver and solve problems. It’s real and it's a story that needs to be told more broadly at a time when we have such high levels of dissatisfaction amongst voters on how government is working for them.”

Sumpter says she is coming into FairVote at an inflection point for the broader movement. The reform space does not look the same as it did 32 years ago when FairVote was founded. It is even further developed than it was 5 years ago.

“We are at a point – which is an exciting point – of differentiation and coordination to lean into the wins,” she said. 

She is the latest leader in election reform to come from the private sector and look at elections and government from a market perspective. She believes that even though the business world and the democracy reform world operate within their own silos, they have aligned interests.

These interests include the need for competition and value creation. “The private sector looks at value creation for markets. Government working is value creation for voters,” she explained.

“At a time when you have high levels of government dysfunction, and politically partisan incentivized dysfunction to the detriment of voters, not only is that not competitive, it undermines the health of our democracy and our markets.”

Coming from the private sector, she is used to looking at systemic impact and systems-level change in this way. The private sector approach looks at political risk, political stability, civic engagement – the very things that are critical to a thriving economy.

Because the things that are critical to a thriving economy are also critical to a thriving society and democracy. It’s about competition. It’s about value creation. It’s about services being provided where they are needed. 

This has become a foundational case in the movements for better elections thanks to entrepreneurs and market-minded individuals like Sumpter and Katherine Gehl of the Institute for Political Innovation and Sarah Bonk of Business for America. 

“Those things are made more possible in a ranked choice voting system where the elected officials are incentivized to meet the needs of their constituents more broadly,” said Sumpter.

She is excited for the future of ranked choice voting and FairVote as they lean into the wins for ranked choice voting, which she is confident will continue in 2024 and into the future. She says it is an exciting time for the movement and momentum is on their side. 

“The excitement of being able to help lead this organization forward, lean into these wins, and tell the story of the results when ranked choice voting is used and voters are more represented with the promise of a more functional government is why I am in this job,” she concluded.

Meredith Sumpter