Brewing up democracy at Iron Hill

by Bryan Derr and Carla Robinson
Posted 5/23/24

MarchOnHarrisburg, a nonpartisan good-government watchdog group, hosted a group of about 40 Northwest Philadelphians to learn about ranked-choice voting.

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Brewing up democracy at Iron Hill


A group of about 40 Northwest Philadelphians gathered at Iron Hill Brewery for a "refreshing" take on democracy at last Wednesday's "Rank the Beers" event.

MarchOnHarrisburg, a nonpartisan good-government watchdog group, hosted the evening to educate the public about ranked-choice voting (RCV) in an engaging, hands-on way. Attendees sampled a free flight of beers, ranked their ballots using a real RCV ballot, and watched them get counted in real time.

Under RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate secures a majority, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and their votes are reallocated based on second choices. This continues until a winner emerges with over 50%. Proponents argue that RCV reduces partisan rancor, eliminates spoiler effects, and allows voters to choose sincere preferences without fear of "wasting" votes.

"Our elections are not responsive to how voters actually feel," said Michael Pollock, executive director of MarchOnHarrisburg. "Just let voters vote for who they actually want to win instead of for the 'lesser of two evils' to avoid a spoiler effect."

The four beers ranked were the Philly Favorite, a lager; the Maibock, a light IPA; Iron Pig Porter; and the Seedless, a sour. 

In the first round of “Rate the Beers” voting, Philly Favorite barely led the Maibock, but neither reached the 50% threshold. The second-place votes for Seedless, which came in last and was eliminated in the second round, were distributed but still did not produce a majority. In the third round, the second-place votes for the Iron Pig Porter were distributed, producing a winner: the Philly Favorite, with 57% of the vote, and Maibock with 43%.

"Interestingly, the Philly Favorite is one of the big favorites at Iron Hill, according to their brewer, so the voting seemed to represent the will of the people," said John Beilenson, a spokesman for the group.

As of February, RCV is used by 50 American jurisdictions (two states, three counties, and 45 cities), reaching over 13 million voters. However, Pennsylvania has not yet adopted RCV or tested it at the local level. State Rep. Chris Rabb, who attended the event, has sponsored legislation to allow ranked-choice voting in Pennsylvania.

“If people can rank their favorite local beers, they can be entrusted to do the same with multiple candidates running for the same election,” Rabb said. “The benefits of ranked choice voting are many, but chief among them is the certainty that any and all candidates elected have secured a majority vote from voters.”

Monica Rush, a local nonprofit manager with a background in conflict resolution, said she thought beer was a great vehicle for the evening’s presentation. "When it comes to more theoretical topics like various voting systems, it can be difficult to illustrate what the practical applications might be,” she said. “Engaging multiple senses is beneficial to learning, so having an event where participants can see, touch, smell, and taste the product they're voting on is very engaging."