Before holding a convention, let’s try rank choice voting

With HCR 9 passing both the House of Delegates and the Senate, West Virginia will apply to the United States Congress to hold a constitutional convention to discuss an amendment for congressional term limits.

We’re not opposed to term limits, per se, but a constitutional convention is a can of worms we don’t want to see opened.

HCR 9 is a resolution that “applies to and urges” Congress to call a convention of states to discuss amendments to the U.S. Constitution, under the provision of Article V that allows a  convention to be called if two-thirds of states apply. (The other way would be for two-thirds of both chambers of Congress to call for a convention to propose amendments.)

As critics of HCR 9 and its predecessors have pointed out, there are no clear rules in the Constitution for how a convention must be run. Even if a convention is called for just one topic — like term limits for Congress — there’s the potential for dozens of other proposed amendments to pop up, and critics fear this could result in an entirely rewritten Constitution.

That’s a valid fear. Both sides of the aisle know the other will show up with a laundry list of changes they want made to our government’s cornerstone document. Term limits might be the first item on the agenda, but who knows where things go from there. The multitude of unknown factors makes us wary, and when it comes to calling an Article V convention, we’d prefer our legislators err on the side of caution. Because, in all reality, the most effective way to create congressional term limits is for people to vote.

Americans in general talk a good game when it comes to term limits. According to a survey from McLaughlin and Associates in 2018, 82% of Americans support congressional term limits. But then we end up with Washington-lifers like Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, both of whom have been in Congress for more than 30 years. Our own Robert C. Byrd served in Congress for almost 60 years.

Obviously, Americans aren’t as fond of the practice of term limits as they are of the theory. Term limits are already built into our governing system: The power to re-elect — or to not re-elect — politicians rests with the voters. Whether we exercise that power is up to us.

There’s no doubt that the frustration with the Washington “swamp” is real, but a constitutional convention isn’t the right answer. Too many things could go wrong, and there is a risk that such a convention could alter our Constitution in ways that were never intended.

Perhaps a better choice would be to take a closer look at rank choice voting. So much of American’s frustration is rooted in the binary, winner-takes-all system that forces voters to choose between the lesser of two evils as each of the two major parties puts up one candidate each, and voters fear a ballot cast for a third party will be a wasted vote. Rank choice allows voters to rank candidates by preference. If no one candidate gets the majority of first-choice votes, then second choices are taken into account and so on until one candidate has the majority of adjusted votes. A more nuanced approach such as this could easily take care of the term limit problem. No longer will voters have only two options: The devil you know or the devil you don’t.