This Washington Examiner editorial highlights the perils of Ranked Choice Voting. (Click here to read more about RCV in our Freedom Foundation report).
March 25, 2023
There is a push in Montgomery County, Maryland, to begin using the needlessly complex system known as ranked choice for elections. For now, Annapolis is denying permission for this, as its right, and has prevented this silliness from arriving on the northern bank of the Potomac River. Arlington County, Virginia, will soon try it for the first time.
The sales pitch for ranked choice voting includes the claim that it builds majorities behind candidates — that no one can win with, say, 32% of the vote as Maryland’s governor did in the 2022 primary. But the claim is false. Instead of forming a majority, the way runoff elections do, ranked choice forms artificial majorities by asking voters to rank all the candidates. Eventually, the ballots of the large percentage of voters who do not comply because they don’t want to support some candidates at all are thrown out.
Ranked choice voting in San Francisco’s 2011 mayoral election resulted in 27% of valid ballots being thrown out before the final result was tabulated. So more than a quarter of the people who showed up and participated had their votes suppressed. As a result, the winner finished with less than 43% of the votes originally cast, which is clearly not a majority.
Likewise, in 2019, London Breed won the San Francisco mayor’s race after nine rounds of counting with only 115,977 votes out of 254,016 cast. Ranked choice thus produced a winner in an eight-person race with less than 46% of the vote. No one can plausibly explain why ranked choice voting is desirable when it cannot fulfill its promise of producing a true majority.
Again, in New York City’s 2021 Democratic primary, Eric Adams finished first after several weeks and eight rounds of counting with 404,513 votes, which was only 43% of the total 936,031 votes originally cast. Ranked choice thus produces “majorities” only by throwing out valid votes — more than 100,000 in the case of New York City.
The idea that ranked choice elections guarantee majority victors is false. It is needlessly complicated and draws out election counts and thus undermines its rationale and scythes the credibility of the result.
Ranked choice voting also gives inferior candidates, who are the first choice of fewer people, second, third, and even fourth chances to overtake candidates whom more voters said they wanted. This is at odds with the Supreme Court’s standard of “one person, one vote” because each round of tabulation gives some voters another chance to change their votes to affect the outcome. A voter whose preference is changed nine times before the winner is chosen has had more votes than most others.
Why should a third-choice vote count the same as a first-choice vote? This is a serious problem, especially when, in most elections, the difference between a voter’s first and third choices is the difference between liking and loathing.
Why would anyone want to adopt such a convoluted system for elections? The answer is, perhaps, those people who know their favored candidates cannot win in traditional elections, so they wish to rig the system to keep their favorites in the race and allow them to sneak through in the rounds to which voters pay little attention.
Majorities can be achieved simply with “runoff elections.” Georgia or Louisiana require candidates to get 50% to avoid runoffs. It’s like the one used in Chicago this month. Candidates can be allowed to win with lower thresholds, as in North Carolina. There is also the open primary system used in California and Washington, in which the top two vote-winners, regardless of party or vote percentage, advance to a head-to-head election. All these states’ systems produce majority winners.
In Alaska, ranked choice voting elected a candidate whom only a minority of voters supported as their first choice — a Democrat in a heavily Republican state. Perhaps this is the real agenda behind the mostly left-wing push throughout the country to institute this utterly flawed and distorting form of voting.
Electing Democrats in Montgomery County, Maryland, is pretty easy. It should not require making a complex mockery of every election.