A coalition of election integrity organizations and grassroots activists is warning Wisconsin’s Republican state legislative leadership about pending legislation that would mandate ranked-choice voting (RCV) be used for the state’s congressional elections.
Under RCV, often dubbed “rigged-choice voting” by its critics, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent 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.
In a letter addressed to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, the groups emphasize how AB 563 and SB 528‘s aim to institute a top-five RCV system for congressional primaries and general elections would produce “confusing, complex, and costly” electoral contests and mark a “devastating” blow to “the integrity of Wisconsin elections.” The bills were formally introduced in the Assembly and Senate, respectively, last month.
“Both ‘final five’ ‘jungle’ primaries and disastrous RCV (also known as ‘Instant-Runoff Voting’ and ‘preferential’ voting) are schemes that have made voting more difficult, reduced transparency, and put confidence and certainty at risk when implemented in public elections,” the organizations wrote. “The result is an epidemic of disenfranchised voters whose ballots no longer are counted fairly and equally.”
Among others, the letter’s signatories include the heads of the Election Transparency Initiative, Honest Elections Project, Save Our States, and Voter Reference Foundation.
The groups’ communique further highlights how RCV disenfranchises voters, specifically as it relates to “ballot exhaustion.” The term “ballot exhaustion” is used to describe when voters select only one candidate on their ballot, and those ballots are tossed because their first choice didn’t win a majority in the first round.
During Alaska’s 2022 special election for its at-large congressional district, for example, nearly 15,000 votes were deemed “exhausted” and discarded. Of these nearly 15,000 ballots, more than 11,000 were from voters who “voted for only one Republican candidate and no one else,” according to an analysis from the Foundation for Government Accountability. Similar circumstances were also documented in a 2018 Maine congressional race between then-incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden, in which more than 8,000 ballots were deemed “exhausted” and effectively thrown out.
In addition to disenfranchising voters, RCV also undermines the will of the electorate. In the aforementioned Alaska special election, Democrat Mary Peltola won the seat even though “nearly 60 percent of voters [cast] their ballots for a Republican.” The system also played a major role in helping GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski fend off a challenge from a more conservative candidate that same year. Meanwhile, Maine’s use of RCV propelled Golden to victory over Poliquin despite the latter winning the most votes in the first round of voting.
Given these election outcomes, left-wing activists and Democrat legislators are predominantly pushing RCV. As noted in the groups’ letter and further exemplified in the FGA report, RCV is “intended to dramatically push [U.S.] politics to the Left, to elevate Left-leaning politicians, and to weaken political parties in order to empower the Left-wing megadonors who are financing a nationwide campaign to promote this dangerous system.”
Throughout the past year, for instance, more than half of the 74 pro-RCV bills introduced in state legislatures “had only Democrat sponsors,” while “just eight percent of the total bills received bipartisan support.” Meanwhile, 16 of the 17 bills opposing ranked-choice voting were introduced by Republicans.
In concluding their letter, the election integrity organizations reaffirmed that bringing RCV to Wisconsin would be “disastrous” for the state’s elections and advised them to follow the lead of other GOP-led states by banning the system.
“Now more than ever we need to safeguard the integrity of our elections, inspire the confidence of voters, and protect the right to vote in free and fair elections they can trust, but the disastrous RCV scheme does precisely the opposite,” the letter reads. “RCV is an election integrity wrecking ball, is never workable and should always be prohibited—not expanded. Several states have acted to ban the practice, and we urge you to consider this information as you determine whether it should be allowed to gain footing in Wisconsin.”
Vos and LeMahieu did not respond to The Federalist’s request for comment on their respective reactions to the letter, positions on ranked-choice voting, or whether they would support AB 563 or SB 528 should either come up for a vote in the legislature.