Why Final Five Voting?

by Irene Bugge

“Why the heck is LWVSCV focused on Final Five Voting? I thought we were all about registering people to vote!” 

Beth Wood asked this at a recent executive leadership meeting (Carolyn, Beth and Irene), explaining that she had heard this question from several League members. I was asked to summarize our conversation.

Voter Services activities are at the heart of our League. Over the past year, we continued to host voter registration events like NVRD National Voter Registration Day and circulate information about election day details such as election dates, location of polls, voting by absentee ballot and where ballot drop boxes will be available to use. This spring, our League hosted a successful virtual Meet & Greet for County Board Supervisors running in all three counties, marched in a parade and held sign rallies. We are excited that VOTE411 will be fully operational for the November elections.

And our League, like the National and State Leagues, is so much more than registering people to vote. Think about why LWVSCV received the Mentor Leadership Development MLD Award two years in a row. Last year, the Program Committee developed a PowerPoint on mis/disinformation, Truth or Consequences, that was presented at the Annual Meeting. They also launched an in-depth exploration of our own racism. Members over multiple session discussed the workbook, Me and White Supremacy. And we added a Diversity Equity and Inclusion DEI representative to our Board of directors.

The Communications and Media Committee continued to keep our website current, post on Facebook, write LTE’s and articles. Member Services maintained library displays, reached out to new members by providing new member packets and produced a New Member PowerPoint. Members hosted two summer picnics.

Are you convinced yet that we are more than registering voters?  There’s more.

For the past two years we were actively engaged in education and advocacy to end gerrymandering in WI. We played a key role in educating the public about Fair Maps and helped to pass a referendum in Polk County for nonpartisan redistricting. Despite our efforts, in partnership with a statewide coalition led by LWVWI, we failed to achieve even fairer maps in Wisconsin.

In June, 2022, the Board decided to pivot away from Fair Maps and focus on Final Five Voting FFV.

FFV is an election reform idea that incentivizes politicians to solve problems, takes away power from political parties and gives that power to voters. It encourages healthy competition, more civil campaigns and greater bipartisan cooperation. This is achieved through changes to the election process at both the primary and the general elections.

Using this system, primary elections are no long partisan. Right now, in Wisconsin, we are required when voting in the Primary, to choose one party and vote for a full slate of candidates in the same party. With FFV, you still vote for one candidate for each office, but you are not limited to voting exclusively on the Republican or Democratic or Green Party ticket. The top five vote getters in the Primary, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election.

At the General Election, Ranked Choice Voting is used. You vote for your top choice, second and so on. Through an instant run off process, candidates are eliminated until one candidate gets at least 50.1% of the vote – a true majority.

There is a real possibility that in 2023, the Wisconsin Legislature will vote on a bill to implement Top Five Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting to elect our Congressional representatives. In the last legislative session, there was bi-partisan support for such a bill, seven Republicans and 15 Democrats. The bill had a committee hearing, an important and promising step.

Currently, there is a national coalition of nonpartisan organizations including Democracy Found, Voters First, Veterans for Political Innovation and Bridge the Divide working at grassroots and “grass tops” levels. Their goal is to have five states pass FFV by the end of 2024.  Taking a few lines from the Democracy Found website, This would “free ten Senators from the tyranny of the party primary. The ten Senators would likely be Democrats and Republicans, but they are now free to work across the aisle. As a result, they could form a fulcrum, a swing coalition, a bench of Senators to deal powerfully with the complex tradeoffs necessary to solve our biggest problems.” Wisconsin could be one of those states.

LWVSCV can play an important role in educating people in our three counties about FFV this year and next.  When the bill is up for a vote, they can lobby their representatives. LWVSCV can make a bigger impact by partnering with Bridge the Divide, a part of GROWW GrassRoots Organizing Western Wisconsin (formerly Pierce County GrassRoots Organizing). Our League has a history of collaborating with this organization on the Fair Maps effort.  LWV Chippewa Valley has also joined forces with Bridge the Divide.

On a personal note, I would like to share why am I pumped about FFV. As a League member who embraces our motto of defending democracy and empowering voters, FFV resonates with my core values.

After being integrally involved in the failed Fair Maps effort in Western Wisconsin, FFV gives me hope. I believe that the time is right for WI to be a leader in the adoption of FFV. Unlike ending gerrymandered maps, adopting FFV offers advantages to both sides of the aisle. It is truly a bi-partisan election reform innovation that will contribute to more effective government.

I am also heartened by the results of the recent special election in Alaska. The first state to adopt FFV (Final Four Voting), Alaska is a case study in what can happen when voters have more choices and parties have less power. A Republican got the most votes in the Primary, a Democrat won the General Election — the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress and the first woman to hold that seat. And equally revolutionary, given our partisan divide, the Democrat who won endorsed a Republican running for the US Senate.

I am thrilled that our Board chose FFV to focus on for 2022-2023. The seeds for our interest in this topic were planted in 2021 when Sara Eskrich, Executive Director of Democracy Found provided an LWVWI Issues Briefing on FFV. There was considerable member interest in this topic and the Program Committee considered holding a book study on Katherine Gehls’ book, The Politics Industry. A DEI focus was chosen instead. I am excited that reading this book together is now being discussed. There will be more updates to follow.

I am hoping that as many League members as possible will attend the FFV house parties/trainings that are being organized this fall. There are so many worthwhile activities to become involved with in the League. I hope that you find time for this one.