Don’t Open This Pandora’s Box Of Voter Confusion

Ranked-choice voting activists are working overtime to push their new voting scheme into key states across the country. Their latest target: Wisconsin, where RCV activists are using a legislative hearing this week to push their voting scheme in the face of conservative attempts to ban it in the state.

With RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, RCV manufactures one. The candidate with the fewest first place votes is eliminated. Ballots that listed that candidate first are redistributed to the next choice. If the voter did not rank anyone else, their ballot is “exhausted” and thrown out. This is how RCV manufactures a majority winner.

If that sounds confusing, you aren’t alone. That’s why five states have already banned RCV, while lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere are working to ban it in their states, as well.

But the left-wing lobby is hard at work. In places like Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and more, liberal mega-donors are pouring tens of millions of dollars into constitutional amendments under the guise of promoting fairness and inclusivity.

In other states, the RCV lobby is pursuing a legislative strategy. That includes Wisconsin, where major backers like Texas billionaire John Arnold and former Obama fundraiser Katherine Gehl have made substantial campaign contributions. Now, these special interests are pushing a bill to impose a form of RCV called final-five voting for Wisconsin’s congressional elections. That system forces all candidates, regardless of party, to compete in a single California-style jungle primary. Voters then rank the top five vote-getters in the general election.

In December, Wisconsin Senators heard eight hours of testimony on final-five voting. More than a dozen conservative organizations showed up to make sure lawmakers got the facts. The bill stalled as a result, so the left has shifted its focus to the Wisconsin Assembly.

Proponents can change the venue, but they can’t change the fact that RCV opens a Pandora’s box of voter confusion and disenfranchisement. That’s why so many places that try RCV wind up repealing it. In fact, RCV was used a century ago in cities across the country, but all eventually repealed it.

More recently, an Utah pilot project that recruited two-dozen cities has seen half of them walk away. Mayor Monica Zoltanski of Sandy, Utah, says she doesn’t “think that the benefits of ranked-choice voting outweigh the benefits of predictability, stability, familiarity.”

For voters, casting a ballot is harder and takes longer than ever before. First, voters must wade through a jungle primary crowded with potentially dozens of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Socialists. Then voters must learn about, and rank, the top five vote getters for the general election. Studies show that final-five voting adds a full minute per race to the time it takes to vote. That time adds up. Imagine a ballot with fifteen RCV races. That’s 75 candidates to rank. Get ready for long lines at the polls and whole new ways to make mistakes that can get your ballot thrown out.

In fact, ballots are routinely discarded under RCV. With each round of elimination it appears as though fewer and fewer people voted. Roughly 140,000 ballots were exhausted and eliminated in New York City’s mayoral race in 2021. More than 11,000 ballots were exhausted in Alaska’s special congressional election in 2022. With RCV, many people may feel they are forced to rank candidates whom they otherwise would not support simply to avoid having their ballot tossed out.

Delayed results are inevitable since tabulation cannot begin until every ballot is in. Hand recounts in large races are nearly impossible, but RCV makes them more likely. After all, final-five voting transforms a single contest into potentially four close races, and changing the order in which candidates are eliminated can change the entire outcome.

The problems with RCV are easier to count than the ballots themselves. But perhaps the best reason not to adopt it is that its proponents will not even admit they are pushing RCV. Just before the Wisconsin hearing, news broke that proponents were spreading misleading materials claiming that final-five voting is not RCV. Perhaps leaked polling from Arizona explains why: RCV is simply too unpopular to openly embrace.

Fortunately, Wisconsin lawmakers have the opportunity to reverse course. Earlier this month, Wisconsin state Rep. Ty Bodden introduced a state constitutional amendment that would ban RCV in Wisconsin. Protecting voters from the disastrous effects of RCV and safeguarding “the fundamental principle of one person, one vote” is absolutely the right way to go.

Jason Snead is the Executive Director of Honest Elections Project Action.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Jason Snead on January 7, 2024

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