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Even Leftists Understand Ranked-Choice Voting Is Unfair, So Why Are Squishy Republicans Pushing It?

Illustration of a ranked-choice voting ballot.
Image CreditFairvote / 

Ranked-choice voting leads to discarded ballots, voter confusion and uncertainty, and reduced confidence in elections, critics say.


The well-heeled proponents of ranked-choice voting like to sell the alternative voting system as a way to take polarization out of elections. In leftist language, RCV “makes our democracy more equitable.” 

But even some of the nation’s left-leaning groups and institutions have warned about the dangers of RCV, also known as “instant-runoff voting.” Interestingly, they see the privileged preference system as a road to “voter suppression.”

“I would suggest to anybody who thinks that ranked-choice voting will stop partisanship or bet a better system, look at what some of the left-wing organizations say about RCV … They all pan it for what it is, which is a chaotic and confusing system,” Mike Vallante told me this week on the Vicki McKenna Show. Vallante is the director of the Center for Election Integrity at the America First Policy Institute.

A white paper published in April 2023 by academics at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota — certainly no bastion of conservative thought — asks an important question: “Where’s the evidence supporting Ranked Choice Voting Claims?” Among its findings, the report said that there is “little research to support the proposition that RCV decreased polarization.”

“A particularly sophisticated analysis found that RCV actually increased animosity among Democrats and Republicans compared to our current system,” the paper stated. 

RCV is ‘Not Right for Democracy’

As far as Ranked-Choice Voting bringing about more “equity” in elections and “diversity” among elected leaders, the report concluded there is “little support” for the claim. 

“RCV may have contributed to an increase in the number of candidates who are racial and ethnic minorities, but there is little evidence that they were more successful in winning office,” the authors wrote.

Hazel Dukes, president of New York’s chapter of the NAACP and the group’s former national president, told the New York Post in 2021 the city’s ranked-choice voting system is “voter suppression.” 

“Ranked choice voting is not beneficial to minorities,” she said in the wake of the RCV mess in that year’s New York City Democrat primary involving the erroneous counting of 135,000 fake votes. 

“I hope that the courts see that ranked choice voting is not right for democracy.”

RCV is not beneficial to voters in general. As the Foundation for Government Accountability notes, ranked-choice voting leads to ballots being discarded, voter confusion and uncertainty, and reduced confidence in elections. Not exactly the prescription for a country where confidence in elections has plummeted.

Follow the Money 

But make no mistake, the left is leading the fight for the instant run-off scheme in which voters rank their preferred candidates from first to worst on ballots, often squeezing out candidates in a race to the middle.  

Some Republicans are getting on board the RCV train as well, with some well-timed campaign contributions from the movement helping them see the light. Ranked-choice voting bills and ballot measures have been popping up nationwide like morels in Wisconsin woods after a misty spring morning. 

As Victoria Marshall wrote in The Federalist in 2022, former Enron executive John Arnold and his wife Laura pumped millions of dollars into a failed attempt to put ranked-choice voting on the Missouri ballot. 

“Former Obama administration and Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign staffers also worked on the effort,” Marshall noted. 

Outside money, with leftist ties, is the common refrain in RCV efforts. Scores of local jurisdictions across the United States have implemented ranked-choice voting, joining Alaska and Maine, the only states using the alternative voting system. Nevada and Oregon are taking the question to the ballot for voters to decide this year. Other states and the District of Columbia are also mulling ballot initiatives.

Five red states — Florida, Tennessee, Idaho, South Dakota, and Montana — have banned RCV, while others are considering measures to prohibit the instant-runoff system. 

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature battled over opposing RCV proposals during the election-year abbreviated session. A bipartisan bill that would replace partisan primaries with one big primary to select the “final five” candidates (in a state that led the early 20th century charge for the direct partisan primary) was introduced by state Sen. Jesse James, a Republican. A constitutional amendment proposal banning RCV and its “final five” cousin was introduced by Republicans, state Sen. Duey Stroebel and state Rep. Ty Bodden. 

There’s plenty of money for Republicans who play ball with the funders of the RCV and “final five” movement. 

“Between January 2022 and June 2023, about three dozen founders, advisers, and supporters of Democracy Found, which supports the [RCV] bills, contributed $204,270 to 42 mostly Republican legislators and legislative fundraising committees. Republicans control the state Assembly and Senate by large margins,” the left-leaning Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported. Top recipients, according to WDC, included the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee ($20,250), Democrat Sen. Jeff Smith ($15,970), GOP Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu ($14,900), Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos ($11,400), and GOP Sen. Jesse James ($10,650).

The California Way

In swing state Arizona, a group called Better Ballot Arizona is pushing a “jungle primary” (final five) ballot initiative in which candidates from all parties run in the same primary and are whittled down to the final five “preferred” candidates in the general election. Better Ballot Arizona is tied to Voter Choice Arizona, a melange of liberal and moderate characters. Meanwhile, the so-called Make Elections Fair Act ballot initiative being pushed in the Grand Canyon State would do away with partisan primaries in a similar RCV initiative, while a GOP proposition would enshrine the partisan primary system in the state’s constitution.  

Once again, leftists want to bring the worst of California to Arizona. 

Vallante says California’s RCV-based jungle primary has done much to end political polarization in the Golden State — by pushing out the right. 

“What it has actually done is move everything farther to the left, which is why you have, people who used to be middle-of-the-road, pro-business Democrats don’t exist in California anymore,” he said. 

The America First Policy Institute will join several other conservative groups, activists, and lawmakers this weekend in Wisconsin for a grassroots seminar on “The Dangers of Ranked Choice Voting.” The event begins at 10 a.m. at the WhirlyBall in Brookfield.  

“There’s an American system, an American feeling, that when you score the most points, you score the most goals, you win the game. RCV is the kind of system that says, if you finish third you could finish first and the person that won the most votes doesn’t always win,” Vallante said. “There’s something fundamentally unfair about that that I think people recognize.”

Listen to the complete interview with Mike Vallante on the Vicki McKenna Show on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee:

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