Ranked-choice voting gains momentum in the U.S. amid bipartisan reservations

Jason Snead said that ranked-choice voting is “detrimental” to “transparency,” as it “turns elections into a black box,” leading to delays in counting votes, more difficult recounts, election results being “harder to understand, and discouraging people from voting.” 

Elected officials across the political spectrum, including local Democrats and Republicans, are actively resisting the adoption of ranked-choice voting (RCV), a system set to appear on ballots in multiple states next year.

Despite RCV gaining popularity in several states, there are concerted efforts to ban its implementation. In RCV, if no candidate secures over 50% of the vote, a runoff system is triggered, with voters ranking candidates in order of preference.

. If no candidate reaches the 50% plus-one vote threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the process continues until a candidate secures a majority.

Supporters of RCV underscore its ability to produce representative outcomes, foster majority rule, encourage positive campaign strategies, offer expanded voter choices, and deliver cost-saving advantages by eliminating the necessity for preliminary or runoff elections, as emphasized by FairVote, a pro-RCV organization.

Alaska and Maine stand as the only two states implementing RCV at the state level, both experiencing delays in revealing their 2022 midterm election results. Despite Election Day occurring on Nov. 8, the final results for Alaska’s GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola were only confirmed on Nov. 23.

Initially trailing behind Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Kelly Tshibaka on Nov. 18, Murkowski held 43.11% against Tshibaka’s 43.28%, with 95% of the ballots counted. However, by counting the ranked choices until a candidate secured a majority, Murkowski ultimately emerged victorious with 54% of the vote. In Maine’s case, election results were disclosed eight days after Election Day.

FairVote reports that RCV has been integrated into the election processes of three U.S. counties and 45 cities.

Despite its implementation, ongoing efforts in Alaska seek to overturn RCV, and in Maine, a legislative proposal to repeal RCV failed to secure passage. The Maine Republican Party has expressed its intention to only consider the results of the candidate with the most votes in the initial round, excluding RCV outcomes in the GOP presidential primary, as noted by Maine Public.

States such as Florida, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Tennessee have enacted bans on RCV. Recent reports from the Ohio Capital Journal suggest that Ohio is contemplating legislation aimed at prohibiting RCV as well.

Several states are actively pursuing RCV-related constitutional amendments, aiming to bring them to a vote through ballot measures in the November elections. Many of these efforts focus on implementing RCV for presidential primary elections.

States including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin are either considering bills in their legislatures or have scheduled ballot measures for the upcoming November elections.

However, Washington, D.C. is contending with a legal challenge regarding its RCV ballot measure. The city’s Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit opposing the measure, citing concerns about potential disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters, according to Oklahoma Watch.

Concerns about potential voter confusion due to RCV have been raised by various NAACP chapters in locations such as Oakland, Calif., the state of New York, and Arlington, Va.

While Montana and Idaho have laws against RCV, any constitutional amendments supporting it would supersede these laws. In Colorado, elected officials express concerns about RCV’s complexity and its potential impact on election security, echoed by county clerks worried about decreased voter turnout, as reported by Coloradoan.

Similarly, in Nevada, officials across political spectrums, including the governor, senators, congressman, and state legislators, oppose RCV, according to Ballotpedia. Wisconsin faces a decision between a ballot measure to ban RCV through a constitutional amendment and a bill proposing its implementation, as reported by Fox News.

At the federal level, two significant bills related to RCV are under consideration. Senators Angus King and Michael Bennet champion the Voter Choice Act in the Senate, which proposes allocating $40 million in federal grants to support state and local governments, covering half the expenses for implementing RCV in federal elections, as outlined in King’s press release. On the other hand, Rep. Mike Lawler introduces the One Vote One Choice Act in the House, aiming to prevent states from using RCV in federal office elections.

Expressing concerns about RCV’s depiction as open primaries, Jason Snead, the executive director of Honest Elections Project, highlights how RCV primaries resemble California’s jungle primary system, consolidating all candidates onto a single ballot for each race. He emphasizes that this setup compels candidates to compete for secondary votes, leading to increased reliance on external expenditure groups and requiring more undisclosed financial support for campaigns.

Snead warned that widespread adoption of RCV in a substantial number of states after the 2024 elections could markedly alter the electoral terrain. He criticized RCV for what he sees as a lack of transparency, attributing it to delayed vote counts, more intricate recounts, and convoluted election outcomes that might discourage voter participation.

Referring to RCV as an “elite-choice voting” mechanism, Snead expressed concerns that influential donors, particularly from the liberal spectrum, are steering RCV adoption. He suggests their aim is to diminish the influence of political parties and advance their own agendas, potentially shifting political dynamics further to the left.