Washington, D.C.’s Democrat Party formally rejected the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in city elections last week, saying the voting system “could hinder voter engagement and participation.”
Under RCV, which critics often refer to as “rigged-choice voting,” voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.
“We acknowledge that RCV may be a suitable option for certain jurisdictions, however, when considering the District’s specific circumstances, we have identified significant concerns that prevent us from endorsing this approach,” a statement released by party leaders on Wednesday reads. “[The] fundamental issue we identified is that District wards are not equal in terms of voter turnout. Implementing RCV would not adequately address this disparity and could potentially undermine the democratic principles we strive to uphold.”
According to The Washington Informer, party leaders expressed concern that the implementation of RCV would kneecap voters’ ability to choose their preferred nominee in any given election and result in potential voter disenfranchisement. “We firmly believe that every voter, regardless of party affiliation or independent status, should have the right to freely choose their preferred candidate,” the party’s statement continues.
Legislation welcoming RCV in the city was introduced by D.C. Councilwoman Christina Henderson in 2021, but did not receive a vote.
Various U.S. municipalities that have adopted RCV have experienced confusing and even inaccurate election outcomes. In an Oakland school board race, for instance, “election officials announced — two months after the fact — that they got the count wrong,” resulting in the “rightful winner … suing for his seat.” Meanwhile, a Utah town that used an RCV pilot program for its 2021 municipal elections experienced high rates of ballots being discarded or spoiled.
In the Genola City Council Race 1, for example, “58% of ballots were either discarded out of hand or otherwise spoiled,” while the Genola City Council Race 2 “had a discarded or spoiled rate of over 74%.”
Maine and Alaska — the only two states to implement ranked-choice voting so far — have also had their fair share of problems, such as election outcomes that contradict the will of voters. In Maine, then-incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin lost to Democrat Jared Golden during the 2018 midterms, despite Poliquin winning the most votes in the first round of voting. That outcome was due to the state’s ranked-choice voting system.
Similarly, in Alaska, Democrat Mary Peltola won the state’s at-large congressional seat last year even though “nearly 60 percent of voters [cast] their ballots for a Republican.” RCV also played a major role in helping Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski fend off a challenge from Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka during the 2022 midterms. The system allowed her to win due to being listed second on Alaska Democrats’ ranked-choice ballots.
While D.C. Democrats appear to have halted RCV’s infiltration in D.C. elections for the moment, city voters may ultimately have the final say on the matter. Last month, Make All Votes Count DC, a pro-RCV group, filed a proposal with the D.C. Board of Elections that seeks to implement RCV in the district’s elections. According to The Washington Post, the proposal — which would also let unaffiliated voters cast ballots in party primaries — can only appear on the 2024 ballot if the Board of Elections “decide[s] that it meets a set of criteria, including that the measure is constitutional, is a proper subject and does not require appropriating funds.”
Make All Votes Count DC must also collect “signatures of support from at least 5 percent of registered voters citywide, including in at least five of the eight wards,” according to the Post. If approved by voters, the city would begin using an RCV-style system in 2026.