AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Flanigan
While practices like ballot harvesting continue to pose a serious threat to election integrity in the United States, another pernicious scheme to undermine the democratic will of the voters – and specifically dash the electoral prospects of Republican candidates – is the spread of ranked-choice voting (RCV).
According to FairVote, one of the main groups pushing Ranked Choice Voting, the practice “makes our elections better by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference.” Ballots that “do not help voters’ top choices win,” the group states, “count for their next choice”—resulting in a process that RCV proponents say yields “better choices, better campaigns, and better representation.”
Though RCV remains a relatively new innovation within the national American political landscape, it is quickly gaining traction—most noticeably among Democrats, progressive activists, and self-proclaimed political centrists.
Currently, only two states—Alaska and Maine—use RCV in statewide elections. However, as of last January, lawmakers in 14 states had introduced 27 bills proposing RCV models, a sign of the system’s increasing momentum nationwide. “Ranked-choice voting is having a moment. The past year saw not only an expansion in the use of ranked-choice systems but also increased interest in instituting it more widely,” NBC News reported early this year.
But the fact that RCV has become so popular among left-wing political operatives should leave center-right Americans skeptical about the stated motivations behind the RCV push. A look at the results in states that have adopted RCV quickly reveals that the practice has been a huge boon for Democrats, particularly in solid red states.
During last fall’s midterm election season, for instance, Ranked Choice Voting was widely credited with the losses of conservative candidates like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who came up short against Democrat Mary Peltola in a U.S. House special election, despite Alaska’s enduring status as a solid red state.
“Ranked-choice voting is a scam to rig elections,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said after Peltola was declared the winner. “60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion—which disenfranchises voters—a Democrat ‘won.’”
The institution of RCV likely also played a role in the 2022 victory of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski—derided by conservative voters and GOP activists as a “RINO” who has betrayed the interests of her state and her party—over Trump-endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka.
But opposition to RCV encompasses much more than the risk of Republican losses. As Senator Cotton observed, RCV disenfranchises voters by way of imposing an overly elaborate voting process that makes it far more difficult for the candidate with a simple majority of votes to win.
As Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow and election law expert at the Heritage Foundation, noted, Ranked Choice Voting is really nothing more than “a scheme to disconnect elections from issues and allow candidates with marginal support from voters to win elections.” He continued: “In the end, it is all about political power, not about what is best for the American people and for preserving our great republic. So-called [RCV] reformers want to change process rules so they can manipulate election outcomes to obtain power.”
As von Spakovsky further noted in a January 2023 report, the RCV tabulation process is highly prone to errors and complications. In a 2022 California school board election, for instance, county officials admitted two months after the race was called that they had incorrectly tabulated the votes and thus declared the wrong winner.
In the 2021 New York mayoral race, the Heritage report found, “it took eight rounds of vote counting of the 10 candidates during two weeks’ time before a final winner was announced”—and more than 140,000 ballots had been thrown out because they were filled out improperly.
In Alaska last year, a full three rounds of voting took place before the winner was ultimately declared—and even then, more than 15,000 ballots were thrown out.
By and large, conservatives have failed to acknowledge the dangers posed by RCV not only to the political fortunes of Republican candidates, but also to the clarity of voting procedures, the simplicity of ballot instructions, and above all the integrity of democratic process.
For the past several years, the Democrat Party has been engaged in a ruthless campaign to paint the GOP as an existential threat to democracy. But by turning their attention to the perils of RCV, Republican officials can not only flip the script and combat the left’s false narrative, but also save American democracy and preserve the sanctity of the ballot box.
Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.