The electoral battleground of Nevada could become the next state to adopt a ranked-choice voting system for future primary and general elections.
Set to appear on the ballot for the upcoming midterm elections, the initiative — if successfully passed — would amend the constitution of Nevada by implementing a ranked-choice voting system for both state and federal primary and general elections, in which primaries “would be opened up to all voters regardless of political party.” Under such a system, voters would rank their top five preferred primary candidates, with the top five overall vote-getters advancing to the general contest.
In the general election, if a candidate fails to garner “an outright majority (more than 50 percent),” the candidate who has the “fewest first-preference votes would be eliminated, with their ‘votes’ redistributed based on the second preference of those individual ballots.” Such a process “would continue until the final two candidates, or when one candidate reached a majority.”
While largely ignored by America’s corporate press, the ballot initiative to completely overhaul Nevada’s election system has silently been gaining traction among state voters. During the first quarter of 2022, Nevada Voters First, a political action committee devoted to the expansion of ranked-choice voting in the state, and other supporters of the measure raised approximately $2.2 million to assist in advancing the passage of the initiative. Moreover, a recent survey of nearly 1,000 registered voters conducted by The Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights found growing support among Nevadans for ranked-choice voting, with 42 percent of those surveyed supporting the 2022 ballot initiative and 27 percent opposing.
Most notable in the poll’s findings, however, is that nearly one-third (32 percent) of Nevada voters hold no opinion of the proposed amendment, signaling that a significant segment of the electorate remains seemingly unaware of the complexities associated with ranked-choice voting.
Such sentiments were expressed by Mike Noble, the chief research and managing partner of OH Predictive Insights, who said transitioning from a traditional primary system to a ranked-choice system is like “going from algebra to calculus.”
“Even when Nevada switched from primaries to caucuses, that was a bit of an adjustment,” he said. “Primaries are pretty straightforward compared to ranked-choice voting.”
A Confusing and Chaotic System
Despite advocates’ claims that ranked-choice voting is better for democracy because it would give voters “more options” on Election Day, such arguments ignore the extremely confusing nature of the process. While speaking with The Federalist, Zack Smith, a Heritage Foundation legal fellow and manager of the Supreme Court and Appellate Advocacy Program in Heritage’s Meese Center, explained the intricacies of ranked-choice voting and how the process oftentimes “obfuscates the candidates and their position” from voters.
Ranked-choice voting can potentially lead to “someone getting elected to office that only has a minuscule amount of support from the electorate,” he said. “If [candidates] have problematic positions, it can make it very easy to hide those [from voters].”
Smith later went on to note the simplicity of traditional primaries with runoff elections, saying they provide candidates “with clarity” and give “them an opportunity to meet voters to put forward their policy platforms [and] positions.”
“Whether you’re a conservative Republican or liberal Democrat, [ranked-choice voting is] just a very confusing process,” he added. “It encourages gamesmanship. [Voters find themselves] trying to think through strategic considerations, you know, ‘Who do I rank second? Who do I rank third? If I rank this person second, can I game the system?'”
Concerns over the confusing nature of ranked-choice voting are hardly exclusive to conservatives, however. Since the major push for Nevada to adopt ranked-choice began earlier this year, notable state Democrats have come out against the ballot initiative, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen.
The proposed ballot measure is “a rushed constitutional change that would make our system more confusing, error-prone and exclusionary,” Sisolak said.
If successfully passed this November, the proposed amendment would make Nevada the third state in the country to implement a ranked-choice election system. In addition to Maine, Alaskans narrowly passed a state constitutional amendment in 2020 that established a top-four ranked-choice voting system for most state and federal elections. Alaska most recently held its first primary election under the new process on Aug. 16, with some votes still yet to be tabulated.
Several U.S. cities such as Minneapolis and New York have also implemented ranked-choice voting for local races, and both of them have experienced extremely chaotic elections as a result. In Minneapolis, where 16 candidates were running to become the city’s next mayor in 2017, it took six rounds of counting and 24 hours to finally declare Democrat Jacob Frey as the winner.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, Frey, who was the “first choice of only 25% of voters” in the election, would go on to leave a legacy of ruin during his first term in office, which included “doing nothing [in May 2020] while rioters burned and looted more than 1,300 buildings” and “caus[ed] an estimated $500 million of damage” following the death of George Floyd.
In New York City, local elections under ranked-choice voting proved to be even worse, with last year’s Democrat mayoral primary taking 15 days and nearly 10 rounds of voting to determine a winner.
“It’s important that voters are educated and understand many of the problems that come along with ranked-choice voting,” said Smith.