Opinion: What is ranked choice voting?

In her weekly column, Nancy Churchill shares why she believes ranked choice voting ‘is a chaotic mess.’

In her weekly column, Nancy Churchill shares why she believes ranked choice voting ‘is a chaotic mess’

Nancy Churchill
Dangerous Rhetoric

In traditional elections, each voter casts a vote for one candidate, with the candidate receiving the highest number of votes declared the winner. This type of voting is called a “plurality” system. Depending on election laws in a jurisdiction, a candidate in a three-way race could win with as little as 34% of the vote.

Nancy Churchill
Nancy Churchill

Ranked choice voting is considered a “majority winner” system because candidates have to receive more than half the votes to win. If a majority winner is declared after the first round, counting is done. However, with four candidates to rank, that’s unlikely to happen. So the “majority” is manufactured by pooling together votes in the second and third rounds until someone gets a majority.

How does ranked choice voting work?

In Alaska’s version of ranked choice voting, voters can rank their preference of four candidates. Instead of just voting for only one candidate, voters rank them—first, second, third and fourth choice.

If no candidate gets a clear majority of the votes cast in the first round, votes for the lowest-scoring candidate are discarded, and those voters’ second-choice votes will be counted in the next round. This process continues until a candidate gets a majority of the votes.

Confused? Alaskans for Better Elections explains “You don’t get to vote twice, your second choice (or third choice) only matters if your first choice fails to get enough votes to continue in the race. If you selected the winner as your first choice, your vote is only ever counted once.”

Wait, what? So, the ballot IS counted more than once, but only if the voter’s first choice was eliminated in the first round.

Alaska voters are not required to rank all four candidates, but if they do not rank all four candidates, their ballots can become “exhausted” and those ballots are discarded. So if a voter only ranks two of the four candidates, and their two candidates are eliminated, their ballots would be discarded after the second round—no votes on that ballot are counted. That voter is disenfranchised with no path to repair his or her ballot.

Problems with ranked choice voting

It’s Systemic Tyranny. Because ranked choice voting is a “majority winner system,” it institutionalizes the “tyranny of the majority” that James Madison and the other Founding Fathers worked to prevent in creating the country as a republic rather than a democracy. By implementing both a jungle primary and RCV, Alaska has the worst of both worlds.

It’s Artificial. The “majority winner” is an artificial, manufactured majority, not a true majority. In Alaska’s recent special election, Democratic candidate Mary Peltola only received 40% of the votes in the first round. The two Republican candidates split the votes, and the votes for the third-place candidate were thrown out and redistributed to the top two candidates using each ballot’s second choice.

One study of elections in Maine found that, of 98 recent ranked choice voting elections, 60% of ranked choice voting victors did not win with a majority of the total votes cast. Bottom line: the Democrats can only win if they manipulate the vote counting, because they can’t win in a head-to-head competition.

It’s ridiculously Complicated. In Washington Examiner’s piece,“Alaska’s Ranked Choice Voting Disaster,” the author points out that “Ranked choice voting jurisdictions have higher rates of voter error compared to traditional plurality elections … This tends to discourage first-time and low-information voters from completing their ballots correctly or from ranking all the candidates on their ballots, meaning that many votes will not actually be counted … By the final round of one San Francisco local election, more ballots had been thrown out than were counted toward the winner’s total.”

It lowers voter turnout. Research has shown that RCV leads to confusion, disenfranchisement, and lower voter turnout. Voters have to research four candidates in order to have a clear preference to rank them. This is time-consuming and complicated, probably requiring more effort than most voters are willing to dedicate.

It’s discriminatory. Rank choice voting creates barriers to minority and non-English-speaking participation. Alaska Policy Forum notes “In some cities where RCV has been tried, such as Oakland and Minneapolis, minority voters were more likely to not fully utilize their ballots, resulting in ballot exhaustion. A study on RCV in San Francisco found that minority groups whose primary language was not English were particularly susceptible to filling out their ballots incorrectly and being disenfranchised”.

It’s more susceptible to fraud. The Washington Examiner points out “calculating the results of ranked choice voting elections is a quagmire. Because of multiple runoff tabulations, ranked choice voting ballots across the state must be transported to a centralized location for counting, which experts contend makes elections more vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement.”

In summary, ranked choice is a chaotic mess. Alaska Policy Forum concludes “The RCV model routinely disenfranchises some groups and disincentivizes voters from even turning up to the polls on Election Day. Additionally, election results via ranked choice voting can end up not truly reflecting the voice of the people. Rather than giving “more choice and more voice,” ranked-choice voting tends to silence voices that have a right to be heard.

Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.

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