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Republicans Advance Bill To Keep Oklahoma Elections Free Of Ranked-Choice Voting Chaos

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Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday prohibiting the use of ranked-choice voting in elections.

HB 3156 stipulates that “[n]o election conducted by the State Election Board, a county election board, or any municipality authorized to conduct elections in Oklahoma shall use ranked choice voting, ranked voting, proportional ranked voting, preferential voting, or instant runoff voting.” The measure passed in a 63-16 vote, with Republican Rep. Marcus McEntire and 15 Democrats opposing.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Under RCV, 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. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.

HB 3156 would additionally nullify any “existing or future” ordinance approved by a local government authorizing the use of ranked-choice voting. Elections conducted using the system would also be moot.

Should a locality violate that provision, the secretary of the Oklahoma Elections Board would have the authority to “bring a civil action in an appropriate court for such declaratory or injunctive relief as is necessary” to enforce the law. Oklahoma’s Senate president pro tempore and House speaker may also do so “jointly.”

While no Oklahoma locality currently uses RCV for elections, according to Oklahoma Watch, bill sponsor and Republican Rep. Eric Roberts previously said HB 3156 is necessary to “preserve the simplicity and timeliness of our current elections, along with our current ease in doing hand recounts when needed.”

“Ranked-choice voting makes voting more confusing and has delayed election results everywhere it has been tried,” Roberts said. GOP Sen. Brent Howard is also a sponsor of the measure.

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%.”

study published by the Foundation for Government Accountability last year found that RCV ballots are often discarded due to “ballot exhaustion,” a term 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. In Alaska’s 2022 special congressional election, for example, more than 11,000 “exhausted” ballots were thrown out because those electors “voted for only one Republican candidate and no one else.”

RCV has also been shown to produce election results that appear to contradict the desires of voters. Democrat Mary Peltola won the aforementioned 2022 Alaska special congressional race even though “nearly 60 percent of voters [cast] their ballots for a Republican.” A similar scenario played out in a 2018 Maine congressional race, in which then-incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin lost to Democrat Jared Golden despite Poliquin winning the most votes in the first round of voting.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma would become the sixth state to ban the use of RCV. Other jurisdictions that have prohibited the system include Florida, Idaho, Tennessee, Montana, and South Dakota.


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