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Grassroots campaign underway for 'Final Five voting' in WI

American at a polling booth
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American at a polling booth

Polls often show dissatisfaction among voters with the current political system. An emerging alternative to standard elections is getting some attention in Wisconsin, with organizers touting such benefits as less-negative campaigns.

What's known as "Final Five Voting" has been adopted in a couple of states, and there is a proposal in Wisconsin. The process involves sending the top five vote-getters in a primary race, from all parties combined, to the general election. Voters would then get to rank them on their general election ballot.

Danny Akenson, field organizer for the Bridge the Divide initiative, said it compels candidates to ditch the toxic nature of campaigns.

"What that sort of incentivizes is for people to be a little less hostile when they're running against their fellow candidates," Akenson explained. "Because instead of just getting one vote from someone, you have to get their second-place vote or their third-place vote."

For the general election, the person in first place would need to get more than 50% of the vote, or an instant runoff would occur. Wisconsin's bill to adopt this process has bipartisan support, but it is unclear if legislative leaders will allow debate. Policy analysts said while Final Five Voting is worth exploring, there might be unintended consequences, including confusing the voters.

Akenson pointed out Bridge the Divide is educating western Wisconsin residents through social gatherings, where attendees can practice Final Five Voting by ranking things like desserts. He feels this process could be appealing to most voters, because they would no longer feel powerless when casting their ballot, potentially boosting turnout in the primaries.

"The primary elections have become increasingly sort of dangerous for candidates to run in," Akenson observed. "Just about 15% or 20% of Wisconsinites show up in the primary election."

However, last year, the state did see its highest primary turnout in 40 years, at nearly 26%. The Wisconsin plan would first cover races for federal seats only. Organizers say depending on its effectiveness, it could be expanded down the road.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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