Today is Election Day. Two states, Alaska and Maine, use ranked choice voting to determine the winners of their elections. The races for Alaska’s At-Large congressional district and Maine’s 2nd congressional district are both expected to be competitive, and RCV could prove determinative.
How much do you know about Ranked Choice Voting? Let’s play “Two Truths & a Lie” and find out.
A. In ranked choice elections, if a voter’s first choice gets knocked out, her ballot is redistributed to the candidate she marked second.
B. Ranked Choice Voting eliminates the possibility of plurality winners and ensures that candidates are elected only with a majority of voter support.
C. Ranked Choice Voting is less transparent than single candidate voting.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A. TRUTH! With RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, election officials eliminate the candidate with the fewest first-place votes and redistribute those votes to the second choices on those ballots. They continue to do this (eliminating the last-place finishers and redistributing his or her votes) until there is only one candidate standing.
B. LIE! RCV creates faux majorities, not real majorities. The winner in a ranked choice election is the person who receives a majority of re-distributed ballots, not a majority of all ballots cast. For example, in a 2010 election for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors a winner was declared after multiple rounds of counting with a faux-majority of 4,321 votes—but, by that time, 9,608 ballots had been discarded because the voters failed to anticipate the last two candidates standing and so did not rank all of the options.
C. TRUTH! Under our current system, votes are tabulated at the precinct level. If there are problems that suggest the need for a recount, those recounts are done only in the precincts where problems occurred. Under RCV, second-round tabulations are complicated and must be performed at a statewide or district level, making it more difficult for public watchdogs to ensure legitimacy.
Bottom line: In a time when we want to encourage voter participation and confidence, we must reject risky schemes like RCV that make voting more complicated and less transparent.