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  • Writer's pictureJack Metz

Rankest Choice Voting

In case you missed it, the election reform movement just wrapped up an event they call the American Democracy Summit. This $325-per-ticket LA conclave covered an extensive catalog of radical modifications to the voting process desired by its attendees. At the very top of this group's list was their increasingly prevalent push for ranked choice voting (RCV).

On its face, RCV sounds like a reasonable solution to our withering two-party system. In theory, voters in races with three or more candidates could elevate beloved/independent/moderate politicians and penalize the most divisive office-seekers by placing them in order of preference. On top of that, RCV might offer monetary and time-based advantages in certain circumstances, according to the USA's self-proclaimed largest nonpartisan "anti-corruption" outfit, RepresentUs.

Almost too good to be true, huh? Probably because it is.

In my opinion, RCV is merely another case of supposedly impartial interests manipulating a cultural norm to bend it in their favor. Give me ten minutes to show you why it's a massive scam...

Bipartisan Rancor

If our world was free of trickery, RCV might deliver, on average, better results than standard winner-takes-all contests. But that's not the society we live in. Not even close. Whether the political operatives involved are wearing hats that are blue, red, black, or white, the stakes are simply too high for any person or party to expect an authentic result from ranked choice voting.

This isn't speculation on my part. I have seen it manifested in my backyard twice this year alone. Arlington experimented with RCV during the 2023 primary before quickly scrapping the process in advance of the general. Pray tell - why would county leadership jam through something "because it gives voters more choices and promotes civility" only to jettison it months later?

Look no further than the results below!

I don't know how else to say it. A brief glance at that data proves ranked choice voting is completely unfair and undemocratic, even when all the candidates hold the same party affiliation. Notice how in this race for two board seat nominations, Maureen Coffey, the woman who would have finished third in a normal primary, was able to announce victory before Susan Cunningham, the woman who received the most first-place votes (6,952).

[Parenthetically, Cunningham also received the most total votes by a large margin. But from what I can tell, no one reporting on the matter was able to say whether Coffey or Cunningham was the overall 'winner' according to the quirky rules of RCV. That feels problematic in its own right.]

More importantly, recognize that Natalie Roy was eliminated despite having more first-place votes (6,708) than Coffey (6,313). Roy also held leads over Coffey in rounds two and three yet still went home empty-handed. Does that seem like a methodology anyone should be clamoring for?

Perhaps the dominant party in DC can help settle that for you. Their answer is a resounding no. Almost immediately after election reformers under the Make All Votes Count DC umbrella began organizing to get RCV on the ballot in 2024, Democrats in the nation's capital opposed the referendum. By August, the party had filed a formal lawsuit.

Don't sleep on the fact that these things happened in two of the most ardently liberal bastions in the nation. It goes to show that, despite what those arguing most vociferously for RCV will claim, it's not just conservatives in flyover country who hate it. Wherever you go, parties afraid of losing their majority and citizens sick of voting shenanigans are either trying to block RCV or revoke it.

So how does it keep gathering steam? Per usual, the media is being used to manufacture consent.

That Sounds Familiar

Once I started researching this piece, I ran a Google News query for the generic term "ranked choice voting" that returned ten 'page-one' results. Not one of those articles was unambiguously critical of RCV, outside of a few direct quotes and milquetoast editorial counterpoints. Rather, I found a pattern of journalists glossing over glaring flaws and/or shaming those opposed to the notion of upending the traditional form of voting used in the United States for centuries.

Even the non-opinion pieces were loaded with an awful lot of the writers' skewed judgments. In this love letter to RCV penned by Nancy Lavin, she didn't present one naysayer within the forty-member Newport Democratic City Committee... even though their endorsement test run ended in a seven-round tie which produced no endorsement at all. Are we to assume that nobody in that Rhode Island room walked away from such a debacle with a bad taste in his or her mouth?

More recently I stumbled upon an Axios blurb about ranked choice voting in Salt Lake City. Analyze the text in its entirety and tell me it's not firmly in the corner of RCV. On second thought, you don't have to. With the exception of less than half of a bullet point, it most certainly is. So much so, that they neglected to mention how the politician they chose to interview about voting was accused of breaking election laws related to the relationship between his political consultancy biz and a reform PAC that has the markings of having gone dark(er) since this came to light. Oops!

Then there's Alaska. The RCV deceit near the Arctic Circle deserves its own section.

Baked Alaska

For years, I remember hearing whispers of extreme electoral shadiness from the Last Frontier. As someone who considers himself a political free agent, it was especially troubling to me that it might be happening in what is easily the most independent state. But, given that I live more than 3500 miles away from Juneau, it didn't really register on my priority radar.

That all changed after I hopped on this Daily Kos springboard down the bleakest of rabbit holes. Those vague rumors buried in the recesses of my mind were soon confirmed to be the abhorrent reality for Alaskans. Their electoral process was hijacked by ranked choice voting.

It all started in the leadup to the 2020 statewide election. A variety of nebulous groups came together to bang the drums for a ballot initiative labeled Measure 2. Manning the point position, an organization called Alaskans for Better Elections was able to raise about seven million dollars over a sustained multiyear campaign that eventually led to a slim margin of victory (1.1%) for future RCV use. Meanwhile, residents opposed to the measure were forced to scramble to mount a defense on a much shorter timeline... with a war chest that was roughly 10% the size of their reformer counterparts. Not only that, but one anti-RCV group (Alaska Policy Forum) was threatened with bureaucratic agency fines for "illegal campaigning" just weeks before the vote. Their violation? Not objecting to the idea of RCV until after the initiative was proposed!

Yes, the Alaska Public Offices Commission actually took that stance. What an absolute joke.

And that's not the half of it. While the rest of the media appear to have been content with not making a fuss about this travesty, Veritas Action was able to connect the dots and give a glimpse behind the filthy Measure 2 curtain. In their own words, campaign coordinators for the eternally unpopular (yet consistently elected) Senator Lisa Murkowski admitted -- when they thought no one was listening -- that there was huge overlap between her office, a consulting firm started by ex-staffers, and those in command of Measure 2. Then there's the part where the cofounder of Alaskans for Better Elections became the campaign communications director for the murky Senator during the first election where RCV was used in 2022. Not a good look, to say the least.

Why wouldn't we believe key figures in Murkowski's brain trust when they said point blank that the ballot initiative was shepherded through with her in mind the whole time? Don't forget, this politician was censured by her own state party a full year-and-a-half before she was up for reelection. Do you think she would have ever made it out of the primary if the shift to a 'non-partisan blanket' system (where the top four move on) hadn't been enacted due to Measure 2?

There's one last nugget to consider. Almost all of the money that poured into the coffers of the pro-RCV machinery in Alaska came from elsewhere. [Close to six of the seven million dollars donated came from two groups: Action Now Initiative (TX) and Unite America (CO).] As if that wasn't damning enough, the Measure 2 authors had the nerve to insert a section promising to crack down on dark money... with a carve-out related to ballot initiatives! You know, the exact type of mechanism they wrote it into. That slick dark money proviso, unrelated to RCV, might very well have been the trojan horse which garnered enough votes to get the whole thing to pass.

It's this outside influence that keeps bastardizing our elections nationwide.

The Outsiders

The sheer number of these interloping entities is mindboggling. From what I can tell, the sector is loosely organized pyramidically. At the apex, coalitions like the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers give airs of legitimacy by focusing messaging on recapping and repackaging the efforts of their member groups. That next tier down forms the pivot point for the movement, strategically determining where most of the money and attention flows. Below them are the incursion forces: area-specific orgs that give marching orders to the local foot soldiers.

The Alaska situation illustrates how intertwined the whole operation is. In the article I referenced earlier, Daily Kos staff cited a poll they knew was conducted "by supporters of ranked-choice voting" that yielded unsurprisingly sympathetic results. [Does anyone over there care in the slightest how ridiculous it is that they published that data?] Digging deeper, I followed the link to one of those national reformer nonprofits and discovered whose name was on the survey: Alaskans for Better Elections. Yes, the Measure 2 front group fed information to the uncritical media during election season -- and no one batted an eye!

[There seems to be a biased trend with these RCV polls, as this New York press release demonstrates. I think everyone would agree that research paid for by PACs is highly suspect, especially when so many of them receive funding from the same national organization.]

Looking elsewhere, there are plenty of other states being suffocated by the tentacles of this beast. For sake of time, I'll highlight the most egregious example: Ranked Choice Voting Montana. Somebody set up a "grassroots nonpartisan volunteer organization" in Missoula and appointed exactly one paid staffer to direct it. Here's the thing though. How bottom-up could RCV Montana be if its logo is virtually identical to a group doing the same stuff in Iowa? [Now go check out the similarities between the Iowa website design and that of Voter Choice Arizona.] Even if it was a total coincidence, there's no denying that national behemoths like FairVote, NANR, and *voila* Unite America "have provided resources and support" to the Montana 'volunteer' enterprise.

Flaw Or Feature?

If I was *ranking* the problems with RCV, the pervasive power of dark money would probably land in second place. While it is clearly the most dangerous factor, it offends me less than the unadulterated deception exhibited by these election reformers. Perfect example? This week's convention in Los Angeles used to be titled the Unrig Summit. From my point of view, unrigging the way our votes are tabulated isn't the vibe. Honestly, it feels like they relish slapping names onto things that are the polar opposite of the goal. Unrig. Anti-corruption. Democracy. Etc. Etc.

There are so many other defects with ranked choice voting. In no particular order of importance, but grouped for continuity:

  1. It's a fairly common scenario where a person with the most first-place votes loses because she or he doesn't pass a majority threshold

  2. Relatedly, how many voters really care about winners surpassing 50%, given places like Arlington and Aspen have soured on RCV right after its first election cycle

  3. RCV results often take way longer to tally than traditional voting; delays can be in the weeks

  4. Savvy voters will game the system by ranking unqualified candidates above politicians from the party they hate -- effectively boxing out prospective winners using machinations

  5. Primaries are exceptionally vulnerable to this type of "meddling in nominating contests"

  6. Legal experts have asserted that RCV violates citizens' constitutional rights by letting nonpartisan voters "influence the outcomes of primary elections"

  7. Another possible ploy: to assure victory, up to a third of voters only put down one name

  8. But... those people who only rank one (or some) candidates might have their vote treated like it never existed if those pols are eliminated in early rounds (these exhausted ballots aren't thrown out, but their preferences don't go into the final count for that specific race)

  9. RCV professes to champion moderates and independents with one breath; but get the reformers talking and their distaste for centrism (as a wasted vote) reveals itself fast

  10. This op-ed does an amazing job describing how moderates indeed suffer under RCV

  11. Then there are the RCV technology concerns: forced reliance on computers to crunch the far-more-complicated votes as well as the costs associated with accommodating everything

  12. In races with multiple open seats, the system has been flummoxed by what to do with the lower rankings of voters whose top choice secured a job

  13. If it was such an "easy" process, why does it require so much training

Frankly, with a list of faults this lengthy, it is unacceptable that RCV has been allowed to persist.

Vote No On RCV!

It's abundantly obvious what these PACs crave. While my editorial is about ranked choice voting, "philanthropic venture funds" are enamored with any concoction that could possibly jostle Election Day. Whether it's independent citizen redistricting commissions (to ostensibly fight gerrymandering), voting at home (to *ahem* enhance election security), or the relentless drive for open primaries (to dismantle logically partisan qualifiers), they intend to flip over the apple cart.

But it won't end there. Once those apples hit the ground these same agitators will complain that the zone wasn't carpeted to cushion the fall. First, they'll invent outlandish slogans like "Let All Voters Vote!" to pretend that a wrong is being committed. In time, their incrementalism will become wildly transparent: viciously attacking locales who altered elections years ago for not keeping pace with the most aggressive reformers elsewhere.

[In a September 14th Unite America missive, they expressed excitement over the 2024 Maine Republican primary opening to hundreds of thousands of independents. Simultaneously, a fellow NANR founder, Independent Voter Project, is suing California (which has had state-level open primaries for over a decade) for not extending the free-for-all to the presidential primary.]

The real question is who is the ultimate beneficiary of their actions? While I can't lay the blame entirely on one demographic, it is hard to miss the progressive fingerprints coating RCV. Jump to the 3:30 mark of this Alaska video for instant confirmation. Or witness NPR treating GOP "roll-off" as a beneficial moderating factor. [Can you imagine how deranged the left-leaning outlet would get if the tables were turned... under a scenario where their diehard All Things Considered listeners were the ones who felt so disenfranchised by electoral reform that they skipped voting?!]

It might strike you as odd that I would condemn the left considering what the Democrats in DC think about ranked choice voting. However, there's a big difference between fiddling with primaries in a city where the majority party outnumbers the second biggest bloc 75% to 6% versus states like Arizona and Iowa, where the split is basically 33/33/33.

Find me an RCV election of consequence with three or more candidates where the right-winger prevailed. I couldn't locate one. [Please don't argue that Murkowski fits this description.] That doesn't mean it won't ever happen... but, as it stands today, the pattern is overwhelmingly blue, lacking any sort of purple, green, yellow, or red. This tendency is super disheartening to me, an Obama voter who has painted with all of those other hues.

The moment has arrived for us to ban the ranked choice narrative from polite discourse. No longer can we allow faceless reporters to frame the truth as misunderstood "perception." And we must stop letting RCV-paid spokespeople tell us the only solution to bad election reform is more election reform. Challenge them with anything or everything you've seen here.

Ranked choice voting isn't simple and it sure as heck isn't better. It's rotten to the core.

Note: the post above may contain commentary reflecting the author's opinion.

Disclosure: unaware of their true goals, the author optimistically attended a 2018 meeting hosted by one of the orgs mentioned.


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