What’s behind the ranked choice voting (RCV) push? That’s a question I’m pondering since recent LTEs have recommended RCV as the best thing since sliced bread. What is RCV? Democracy Journal has a clear summation: “Known as instant-runoff voting, RCV allows voters to rank candidates by preference. If one candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, that candidate is declared the winner. If no candidate takes a majority, then virtual runoffs commence. In each runoff round, the last-place finisher is eliminated. All ballots on which the last-place finisher was ranked first are now re-purposed. The second-place candidate from these ballots is given another first-place vote in the next runoff. This process continues, with the worst performer in each round eliminated, and remaining ranked candidates promoted, until one candidate has won a majority of first-place votes. Sometimes.“
Why sometimes? Because RCV works only if all voters rank all (or all but one) of the candidates. That’s the only way to be sure your vote will still be around to be counted in the final round. But many voters don’t rank all candidates, because many people are not only FOR one candidate, but also AGAINST another one (or more). That’s why they take the effort to go out and vote. A person who is willing to rank, and give a chance of winning, to multiple candidates must not feel very strongly about any of them. RCV thus favors voters who are relatively indifferent to who wins, and works to lessen the impact of voters who are passionate about their candidate, who will show up rain or shine to cast their vote.
Because RCV is a flawed system, it doesn’t deliver on its promise that the winner will be selected by a voter majority. In 2018, Maine Gov. Paul LePage wrote “stolen election” next to his signature on the election certificate confirming Jared Golden after Bruce Poliquin had initially prevailed by 2000 votes. Because Poliquin won by plurality, RCV was applied. This resulted in voters’ second/third choices being counted. Golden gained 10,000 votes because of the re-allocation of second/third vote preferences originally given to two independent candidates. Poliquin gained 4,000. And the votes of around 8,000 people who voted on election day were not counted at all, because their votes were discarded by the RCV process. They hadn’t ranked any other choices, so their votes didn’t count in the final tally. Only after those votes were removed did Golden get over 50% of the remaining votes, and he was declared the winner. The final RCV result was again a plurality of the votes cast on election day, just counted differently. Is that really an improvement?
In Minnesota we say: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. There is nothing wrong with one voter, one vote, and being sure that EVERY voter’s vote is counted both on election day AND in the final tally. There is nothing wrong with being so passionate about your candidate that you do not want to cast a potential vote for someone else. And there is nothing wrong with choosing the candidate with the most votes as the winner. Our system is not broken. RCV is not a fix. It’s just another way to play games on election day. Haven’t we had enough of that?
Bari Amadio is a student currently studying for a degree in fine arts and design at RCTC.