Rep. Kislak, Sen. Lawson kick off ‘chocolate election’ at State House

Learning about ranked-choice voting has never been more delicious


STATE HOUSE – In honor of Valentine’s Day this week, Rep. Rebecca Kislak and Senate Majority Whip Valarie Lawson are hosting their second annual chocolate election, a demonstration that promises to explain ranked choice voting in a delicious and informative way.

The two legislators are introducing ranked-choice voting legislation this week at the State House to illustrate the way ranked-choice voting works. Early voting as already begun online and will continue until 3 p.m. on Thursday, while in-person voting will be available at the State House outside the House chamber from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The delicious chocolate contenders this year include Hershey Zero Sugar Chocolate, Lindt White Chocolate Truffles, Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate and Caramel, Andes Creme de Menthe and That’s It Dark Chocolate Espresso Truffles, the last of which is vegan.

“Last year, I realized we were promoting ranked-choice voting, but we in Rhode Island have limited experience with it. We need to try it out and see if this is something we want in Rhode Island, and a chocolate election seemed like a great way to get started! We had so much fun, we’ve decided to make this an annual event,” said Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “Ranked-choice voting, whether for chocolate or public office, is a way of allowing voters more nuance than a simple yes or no, and could result in more positive, thoughtful campaigns. While term limits prevent last year’s winning chocolate, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, from running again, we have a diverse group of candidates, including sugar-free and vegan options, so there is something for everyone. No matter what the results, this election will fun and informative. This is a light-hearted demonstration, but a useful tool to allow people to understand the concept of ranked-choice voting by taking part directly.”

Said Senator Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), “What we’re really trying to do is to continue the conversation about ranked-choice voting here in Rhode Island. Voters should be able to vote with their heart and not worry that they throwing away that vote. Ranked choice voting gives voters that opportunity, and with this demonstration people will get a better understanding of how it works and how it could improve Rhode Islanders’ satisfaction and engagement in our elections. Our neighbors in Maine have been using for several years, and it’s a concept that we should seriously consider for the benefits it could have here in Rhode Island.”

Ranked-choice voting, also called instant run-off voting, allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference in races when there are more than two candidates. The votes are tabulated in rounds, with the lowest-ranked candidates eliminated in each round until there are only two candidates left. The one who is determined to have received the majority of the votes in the final round is declared the winner.

Proponents of ranked-choice voting point to its elimination of “spoiler” candidates or vote-splitting — situations where two or more candidates who appeal to a group of like-minded voters split that group’s votes, enabling the victory of a different candidate, even if that candidate does not win a majority.

The advantage to voters, according to FairVote, a national organization dedicated to advancing ranked-choice voting, is that “voters can sincerely rank candidates in order of preference. Voters know that if their first choice doesn’t win, their vote automatically counts for their next choice instead. This frees voters from worrying about how others will vote and which candidates are more or less likely to win.” There is also research suggesting ranked-choice voting results in more civil campaigns and less negative campaigning.

For the Valentine’s Day Demonstration, Representative Kislak and Senator Lawson will be joined by volunteers at tables outside the House chambers between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Voters will be allowed to sample five different types of chocolate, including no-sugar and vegan options, and will rank them in order of preference using an online ballot. Anyone will be eligible to vote, and the online poll is now open. The ballot will close at 3 p.m. on Thursday. When the poll closes, the votes will be tallied nearly instantly using the online tool in up to four rounds, with the lowest-ranked chocolate in each round eliminated, until one chocolate has won with more than 50% of the vote. Results will be posted at this link.

The legislation that Representative Kislak has introduced (2024-H 7540) and that Senator Lawson will submit this week would institute ranked-choice voting for presidential preference primaries, beginning with the 2028 presidential election. In 2020, the Democratic presidential primaries in Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii, Kansas and Wyoming all employed ranked-choice voting.