Opinion: Brain science supports ranked choice voting


Published: 01-14-2023 4:00 PM

Kate Harris, PhD, lives in Dover.

On Tuesday the 17th, two bills that support ranked choice voting will be considered by the Election Law Committee.

I’m a psychologist who lives and works in Dover. My professional understanding of neuroscience and human nature informs my conviction that allowing ranked choice voting would be a significant improvement in how we hold elections.

RCV is one step we can take right now to support a more functional democratic republic. A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need and knowing that other people care about what you believe is an essential part of establishing a sense of belonging. Feeling left out of a group is processed in the brain in the same location as physical pain. This pain often drives angry behaviors (fight) or apathetic withdrawal (flight).

Ranked choice voting allows people to express their true preference for a novel idea or a lesser-known candidate without concern that their vote is wasted. Feeling heard and as if they have influence, even if their top choice is not the winner, will allow more citizens to have a sense of belonging that will encourage constructive participation in our democratic process rather than bitter criticism or apathetic withdrawal.

I believe that ranked choice voting invites citizens to think more deeply about their role in our democracy. Deeper thought engages the prefrontal cortex. This part of our brain distinguishes us from reptiles who are primarily concerned with their individual survival. Our prefrontal cortex is what allows us to live in community with others and it processes information in a way that is more generous, takes in the perspectives of other people, plans for the long term and is more flexible and creative.

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We need a voting system that encourages this type of whole-brain thinking. RCV asks more of our citizens, and I trust they are up to the task.