Ranked-choice voting proves a lightning rod issue in several states

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By KIM JARRETT | THE CENTER SQUARE

Bills to ban ranked-choice voting are causing passionate debate over a method to cast ballots that some say is fairer and some say is confusing and could lower voter turnout.

Ranked-choice voting allows people to rank the candidates, with “one” being their favorite. The votes are tallied in rounds. After the first round, the candidate with the lowest votes is eliminated. The voter’s second preference is then added to the tally. The process continues until a winner is determined.

Idaho, Tennessee, Montana and Florida have banned ranked-choice voting in their states. Maine was the first to conduct a statewide election using the counting method in 2018. Alaska used ranked-choice voting first in a statewide special election in 2022 to replace the late U.S. Rep. Don Young and again a few weeks later in its general election.

Iowa is one of several states considering banning ranked-choice voting this year. The ban is part of a sweeping election bill that also eliminates drop boxes for absentee ballots. House and Senate subcommittee meetings were packed with people asking lawmakers to reconsider banning ranked-choice voting.

“Just keep the conversation going,” said David J. Gion, executive director of Better Ballot Iowa, a group that advocates for ranked-choice voting. “There is no reason to stifle the conversation and ban ranked-choice voting today.”

Gion said about 90% of Iowans do not know what ranked-choice voting is. And when they learn about it, they are generally supportive.

Rachel Hutchinson, a senior policy analyst for FairVote, a group that advocates for ranked-choice voting, told The Center Square in an interview that 50 cities and counties use ranked-choice voting. A task force in Illinois is studying it, she said.

“I think that’s because people are waking up and seeing that it is our “choose one” elections that are depriving voters of meaningful choices, creating these increasingly toxic campaign cycles, advancing candidates who lack broad support and really just leaving voters feeling like our voices aren’t heard,” Hutchinson said.

The Foundation for Government Accountability calls ranked-choice voting a disaster in a research paper published in October.

“While there’s some that think ranked-choice voting has this ability to solve, maybe whatever ails our political system now, if you’re dissatisfied with the individuals running at the top of the ticket, in reality it doesn’t actually have real bearing on what we see unfolding in state capitals across the country, which is really not the type of drama we see in Washington, D.C.,” Brian Sikma, senior fellow at the organization, told The Center Square in an interview. “I think it’s really an interesting idea that evolved into maybe we can use this to solve problems in our political system, but in reality, the problem that it is trying to solve doesn’t really exist, particularly at the state and local level.”

Ranked-choice voting is confusing and sometimes awards candidates that did not receive the most votes, the Foundation for Government Accountability said.

The research paper cites Alaska’s special congressional election, which Democrat Mary Peltola won.

“Republican candidates received 60 percent of the vote in the first round, but the Democrat won because of the ranked-choice voting process,”the report read.

Hutchinson said Alaska’s general elections were an overall success.

“I think the results of the election were really consistent with Alaska’s independent streak,” Hutchinson said. “Alaska elected a conservative Republican governor, a moderate Republican senator and a moderate Democratic congresswoman,” Hutchinson said.

And she said voters do not find it confusing. Eighty-five percent of Alaskans said it was simple their first time.

“After New York used it for the first time in 2021, 95% said it was simple,” Hutchinson said.

While some state legislatures are considering bans, Oregon and Nevada are considering ballot measures to implement ranked-choice voting. Groups in Alaska are petitioning for ballot measures to overturn ranked-choice voting.

38 COMMENTS

    • No. Rank Choice Voting is a longer process and costed more. Hopefully, someone who has the stats will share those stats!

    • Donna–yes, the costs are equal. RCV is accomplished statistically, with software designed for the purpose. RCV was NOT a longer process as Ginny falsely claims. We could watch the results live; the counting of RCV took only a few seconds for the software to do its job.

      • SA, with paper ballots and hand counting, we could be done and results in by the end of the night. Overhead would include providing buildings for people to go to and vote; wages for the poll workers and the people counting the ballots. With RCV, the added expensive cost is the machines. Additionally, we had to wait how many WEEKS before the state of Alaska provided the results for rank choice voting? This excerpt from alaskapublic.org: “Alaska is using ranked choice voting to tabulate its election results. Initial results from the first round may be available in the days after Election Day, but final results may not be released until two weeks later.”

    • Donna, while reading another article, I was reminded of this: “That 2020 ballot measure had put in place several changes that were first implemented in the 2022 election: It replaced Alaska’s closed primaries with open primaries; it put in place ranked choice voting in Alaska’s general elections; and it instituted new reporting requirements for political campaign contributors.” From what I understand, only ONE item should have been on that bill – not three items. I am under the impression that this (having 3 items in itself) should have nullified the bill. Alaskans got duped on that bill that passed RCV.

    • Donna, Phil Izon is the director that created the petition drive to repeal rank choice voting. Due to the fact that Soros is trying to get rcv installed in all 50 states, Phil created a website that provides education on rank choice voting that has been a useful website for people in many states. The website provides information on how it really works and why it does not help us. There are video presentations, news from other states fighting rcv, reading materials and a newsletter that people can sign up for. Please check it out. The website is called, “Ranked Choice Education Association” and it is found at ‘https://rankedchoiceedu.org/.

    • If your elections allow runoff elections, RCV’s “instant runoff” process eliminated the need for a separate election day and procedure. This is a huge cost savings.
      As far as facilities and counting processes… I was an election observer on ’18, ’20, and ’22. In each of those elections (with and without RCV) alaska ballots were transported to central locations, and hand-verification of a sampling of districts was conducted centrally. The manpower and facilities required in each was roughly the same.
      As far as delays… Alaska introduced RCV in ’22 for the first time. Because of the newness of the system, and the firestorm of (unsubstantiated) election fraud claims, alaska elections took extreme care and patience in releasing results from the 22 elections – absolute accuracy over undue haste. And.. no corrections needed to be issued. The procedures operated correctly and effectively. And checks, and hand-verifications were fully correct and consistent – before the elections offices released data. Future elections, more experience, and a “lower temperature” will allow quicker results releases.

  1. Maybe one day Alaska will have the Govenor, the Legislature, the court, and the public get rid of rank choice voting. Until then let RCV in Alaska elections be a good lesson for All of us how to vote in unison behind 1 candidate to give them the 51 plus edge that candidates need to avoid s run-off. And Nicholas Begich He is the only R candidate. Don’t matter hii or e much one really likes Dahlstrom or Palin for that matter. Nicholas is the Only candidate. Just like Sen Sullivan would be the R’s only choice. Murkowski is a special case for another R to go up challenging her. She has built a base as all politicians work toward building that every challenger must respect. A challenger coming in looking like a punk kid in a leather jacket complaining about the leader, they’ll alienate themselves from the rest of the pact and lose the race, I tell you Kelly and Forrest they made that mistake during their campaigns for US Senate and US House. Both Murkowski and Young had some important voters behind them. Sullivan is doing a really good job building up his voting Alaskan base of loyal voters despite choices he makes is good for one group vs another and vice versa. But appeasing every group and getting every group what they want shouldn’t be the goal. If a Leader is principled and their career died on one principled issue of America at stake, that courage is worth more than all the hard compromises they made through out their time in office.

  2. Rachel Hutchinson may not see anything wrong with it, but as one who has voted using the system I totally disagree.

  3. Let’s face it; the social democrats have found a way to win and this is bound to sweep the nation. That or the California method of top vote getters in the primary, regardless of party, move on to the general election. Hence the one party social democrats running California.

    Civically, we’ve raised a nation of illiterates.

  4. I am hearing the evil and democrats now using the talking points of those who are advocating getting rid of rank choice voting. I caught bits and pieces today of a hearing in Ohio and heart the lefty using many of the words that Alaskans for Honest Elections uses, but giving theirs a slight twist to fit their agenda. This seems to be pretty common now for all of the topics.
    Ms. Jarrett, your article here seems to be another one of those because your second paragraph says, “Ranked-choice voting allows people to rank the candidates, with “one” being their favorite. The votes are tallied in rounds. After the first round, the candidate with the lowest votes is eliminated. The voter’s second preference is then added to the tally. The process continues until a winner is determined.” The rest of your article sounds neutral. I would like to think that you are coming from a neutral position; but, again, that second paragraph just killed my hope. Rank Choice Voting is the system of cheaters and it has to be eliminated for good!

    • If you’re looking for plagiarism, twisting, and misrepresentation, you should *start* with the AHE crowd. Heck, they intentionally lifted their name to create confusion with the original advocacy group Americans for Fair Elections.
      RCV has been a good idea for a long time. There’s a whole set of academic literature on it, going back decades. The positions and arguments you see in favor of RCV have been unchanged for decades.
      The opponents to RCV do not have any original arguments or positions – that they’re willing to state publicly…
      But if your first exposure to the discussion is through opposition disinformation, I can e how you think the arguments in favor are the “spin”.

  5. At best, it’s a stupid idea supported by well intentioned stupid people.

    At worst, it’s a cynical way to circumvent the will of the people.

    The traditional way has worked for hundreds of years globally. Why screw with it?

    • How has the traditional way “worked” so well? When Lisa Murkowski won the Senate race as a write-in in 2010 (after losing the Republican primary) with less than 40% of the vote, was that result “the will of the people”? There is also no denying that the election of single winners by plurality vote tends to cement the dominance of two major parties, whereas other systems (such as party-list and single transferable vote) tend to allow multiple parties to be competitive.

      I’m not saying that ranked-choice voting (properly called “instant-runoff voting” as the term ranked-choice voting actually refers to a family of systems) is the best system out there but it is a step in the right direction. I, for one, would like to see a political enviroment where we have meaningful choices representing the wide variety of beliefs in society instead of one which essentially forces us to choose between the lesser of two evils.

    • I hate to break it to you but Mary Peltola won because Alaska is not the bastion of conservatism many readers of this site seem to believe it is. Many of Begich’s voters ranked her second while many others ranked no one second. It is plausible that, had Palin been the sole Republican on the ballot, those voters still would have voted for Peltola or not voted at all; too many people simply did not like Sarah Palin.

      Denying reality is not going to help us win elections, but running better candidates and educating voters on how to actually use RCV (instead of just crying that the system is “rigged”) will.

  6. ” Eighty-five percent of Alaskans said it was simple their first time.” LIE.

    “Republican candidates received 60 percent of the vote in the first round, but the Democrat won because of the ranked-choice voting process,”the report read.”
    “Hutchinson said Alaska’s general elections were an overall success.” NOT FAIR.

    • Patricia, the data demonstrate that the claims made in the article are correct about Alaskans’ views about RCV.

      “A new Patinkin Research Strategies / Alaskans for Better Elections poll offers the latest evidence that ranked choice voting (RCV) is off to a successful start in Alaska.

      Conducted after the Last Frontier’s August 16 “pick-one” primary and first-ever RCV general election (a special election for U.S. House), the poll found that:

      85% of Alaskans reported RCV to be “simple”
      95% of Alaskans reported receiving instructions on how to rank their choices
      A supermajority of voters (66%) ranked multiple candidates. Of the 33% of voters who only voted for one candidate, 75% reported the reason was “that was the only candidate I liked.”
      62% of Alaskans support the state’s new primary system
      Everywhere it’s used, voters like and understand ranked choice voting, so this poll is no surprise. We’ll be excited to see more data after Alaska’s first regularly scheduled RCV elections – with more than 60 contests on the ballot across the state – this November.

      Patinkin Research Strategies’ poll memo is available here.

      More info on Alaska’s first RCV election is available here. ‘https://fairvote.org/new-poll-shows-alaskans-understand-ranked-choice-voting/

      • For anyone who is not familiar with fairvote.org or Alaskans for Better Elections, those are both Soros-funded organizations. The same dark money that conned us into voting for rank choice voting by misrepresenting the facts. Soros wants a one world government and has no interest in keeping the useless eaters alive-we are all useless eaters by his standards. SA, you are a useless eater also and when your job is done you will be “disappeared” like everyone else. People that love humanity need to step up against these organizations trying to take down the world and we do this by taking back our local areas first.

        • And she is AHE’s money coming from? Before being laundered through church coffers, of course. And Outside church coffers at that.
          Lobbyists living in glass houses…

    • Was Bronson’s victory in 2021 following a runoff a “scam”? Did you vote “twice” if you voted in both the general election and the runoff?

  7. Democrats favor RCV because it favors their behavior, as evidenced by Al Gross dropping out in order to increase Petola’s chances. Pallin and Begich split the Republican vote, so Petola won.

    • That’s not how it works. Rank voting is stupid, but it’s only uninformed voters who split the vote.

      With you example of what happened it doesn’t matter if the bear doctor dropped or not because he would have been the first to drop anyways leaving Palin, Begich, and Peltola. The Republican voters who didn’t rank Palin or Begich as their second choice are the only ones to blame because they didn’t want to play the stupid numbering game because they preferred to see a Democrat instead of counting to 3.

  8. Rank choice voting is – rank, akn as rancid.

    Dump it in the sea to feed the fish !

    It doesn’t serve the purpose of democracy.
    It reduces the power of direct choice.

  9. Voting standard:
    One legal vote on one legal day by one identifiable, legal voter at one legal polling place should be the gold standard. No mailout ballots allowed. Ranked choice voting should not be allowed. Verifiable requested absentees are acceptable. Nonpartisan ballot assurance and verification by hand counting should be a requirement.
    Term limits should also be enacted. After all, if it’s good enough for the President, it should be good enough for Congress

  10. “Ranked-choice voting allows people to rank the candidates, with “one” being their favorite. The votes are tallied in rounds. After the first round, the candidate with the lowest votes is eliminated. The voter’s second preference is then added to the tally. The process continues until a winner is determined.”

    Not actually correct. Try this:

    “… The voters whose candidate was eliminated get thier second preference then added to the tally.” It’s supposed to be a democratic republic where eveyone is equal and one voter per citizen. But with rank choice voting, as in animal farm, some animals are more equal than others.

  11. Rank choice voting is a joke. If I wanted the 3rd place vote getter to win the election I would have voted for them. Rank Choice voting is not about getting the best candidate based on a person’s individual vote – it is a convulated way of stacking the deck for a lesser candidate to win. Voting has been, and should continue to be, one vote for one candidate and it has nothing to do with the stupid commercial ran by the rank choice voting people about picking your favorite ice cream. That people actually fell for that analogy just shows how uninformed younger voters are.

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