Alaska and Maine have implemented “ranked choice voting,” a confusing, chaotic method of voting. Georgia should not follow suit.
“Ranked choice” really should be referred to as “rigged choice,” since it effectively disenfranchises voters and allows marginal candidates not supported by a majority of voters to win elections.
While far-left donors like George Soros and infamous crypto-king Sam Bankman-Fried have pushed hard for ranked choice, the system is too much for many card-carrying liberals. California’s former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and current Gov. Gavin Newsome (D) both vetoed bills expanding ranked choice voting in the state, with Brown saying it is “overly complicated and confusing” and “deprives voters of genuinely informed choice.”
In ranked choice voting, voters don’t vote just for the candidate they want to win the race. Instead, they are supposed to rank all of the candidates, from their top pick to their least favorite, even if their last choice is someone they would never vote for or even know much about.
If no candidate wins a majority in the initial count, the candidate with the fewest number of votes gets dropped from the ballot, and the people who selected that candidate as their top choice automatically have their votes changed to their second choice. The ballots are then counted again (and again) until one candidate is finally awarded a majority of votes, even though those votes may be the second, third, fourth or last choice of most voters.
This rigs the system to allow candidates with only marginal support to win elections.
That’s exactly what happened in the 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, Vt. In a race with four candidates, a third-party candidate initially received only 29 percent of the vote, coming in second behind the Republican candidate in the first two rounds of vote tabulation. The third-party candidate was declared the winner in the third round, even though he was not the first choice of nearly three-quarters of the voters. This result led the citizens of Burlington to jettison the system.
One of the worst problems with this confusing form of voting is what is called “ballot exhaustion.” In races with multiple candidates, many voters do not rank all the candidates. In a race with five candidates, for example, voters may rank only two candidates and ignore the three candidates they don’t like.
But, if the two ranked candidates are eliminated in the first two rounds of tabulation, those voters’ ballots are thrown out by election officials— and they will have no say in the remaining rounds of tabulation.
This ballot exhaustion disenfranchises voters and leads to the election of candidates like the third-party candidate in Burlington who are not the first choice of a majority of voters. The only majority they’ve won is a majority of whatever votes were left in the final round of tabulation.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) received the most first-choice votes in the 2018 congressional election in Maine, but lost to Jaren Golden (D) in the second round of ballot tabulation after the votes for two other third-party candidates were redistributed and the ballots of thousands of voters who had not ranked all four candidates were thrown out.
Frontrunners in ranked-choice contests may wind up losing in later rounds because, as one 2015 study found, “a substantial number of voters either cannot or choose not to rank multiple candidates.” Many “opt to cast a vote for their top choice, neglecting to rank anyone else.”
Ballot exhaustion played out again in the 2021 New York mayor’s race. With 10 mayoral candidates on the ballot, it took eight rounds of vote tabulation over two weeks to determine the winner, Eric Adams. But by the eighth round, more than 140,000 ballots of voters had been disenfranchised, their ballots thrown out because they had not ranked all of the candidates.
And the same thing happened in the 2022 U.S. House election in Alaska. It took three rounds of vote counting until the Democratic candidate was declared the winner over two Republican candidates. Over 15,000 ballots were thrown out and not counted in the third round, again, because those voters had not ranked all of the candidates in the race.
In the electoral process used in Georgia, like many other states, if no candidate in a general election wins a majority of the votes cast, the top two vote-getters compete in a runoff election several weeks later. This gives voters time to reeducate themselves about the two finalists and make a final decision.
Runoff elections also guarantee that the winner has a genuine mandate from a majority of the voters— a crucial factor in a democratic system where more and more voters distrust the government.
Ranked choice voting is a confusing, overly complicated gimmick— one that allows candidates with only marginal support to win elections. This is a reckless “reform” that would make the electoral system worse.
A former member of the Federal Election Commission, former Atlantan Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative.