Vol. 55, No. 6

In this edition

After reading the results of The Ripon Society’s 6th Annual National Survey in this latest edition of The Ripon Forum, it is hard not to conclude that Republicans have the momentum entering next year’s campaign.

The Absentee Congress

Since proxy voting was established in the U.S. House in May of 2020, some Members have taken to practically never coming back to Washington – sometimes not showing up for months on end.

It’s Time to Shore Up the Independence of Federal Inspectors General

Inspector Generals saved taxpayers over $53 billion last year. To continue to fulfill their roles successfully, they must be able to work without interference from agency and executive branch leadership.

Further Proof That Demography is not Destiny

The left wing of the Democratic Party has gotten out over its skis with its radical ideas and overall wokeness, and the voters known as Hispanics have begun to say, “Basta!”

The Virginia Blueprint

Elections are about the future, and Glenn Youngkin epitomized a post-Trump party and post-COVID governance. It also provides Republicans with a plan to run on in 2022.

A View from the Front Lines: The Battle for the House 2022

Republicans need to continue their strong fundraising and develop and articulate a message that appeals to the broad middle of the electorate.

A View from the Front Lines: Battle for the Senate 2022

Republicans have the winds at our back in the quest to take back the Senate majority in 2022 and are well positioned to gain the one seat needed to do so, if not many more.

A Clear Path Out of Challenging Times

The Ripon Society’s 6th Annual National Survey makes clear that voters are ready to embrace bold solutions and are ready to embrace politicians with the courage to take the lead on pursuing solutions.

Ranked Choice Voting is a Growing Success Story that Provides Voters with a Greater Voice

With RCV, more voters have a voice in who wins, and winning candidates have a broader base of support when they begin serving and governing.

Ranked Choice Voting Complicates the Voting Process and Distorts the Final Vote

Proponents claim that RCV guarantees the winner has majority support, but data shows that this often happens because it distorts the final vote.

In Memoriam – Judy Van Rest

Washington is filled with quiet leaders who believe in the promise of America and dedicate their lives to making our country and our world a better place to live. Judy Van Rest, who served as a member of The Ripon Forum’s Editorial Board for 11 years and passed away last month, was one of those […]

Ripon Profile of Jaime Herrera Beutler

The Representative of Washington’s 3rd Congressional District discusses her efforts to improve maternity-related health care and create good-paying jobs for the people she represents.

Ranked Choice Voting Complicates the Voting Process and Distorts the Final Vote

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), also known as Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV), is often portrayed as a fresh, new way to engage disaffected voters and reinvigorate American democracy. While birthed from a real concern, its proponents’ lofty claims do not match real-world results.

RCV allows voters to rank multiple candidates rather than supporting just one. If no candidate reaches more than 50 percent in the first count, those who cannot win are eliminated and their supporters’ votes redistributed to successive choices. This process repeats for last place candidates in each round until one has a majority of the remaining votes.

Some communities across the U.S. such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine have long experience with RCV. Other jurisdictions like, Pierce County, Washington and Aspen, Colorado, repealed it after just a short time.  Proponents claim that RCV guarantees the winner has majority support, but data show this often happens because RCV tabulation distorts the final vote count.

Proponents claim that RCV guarantees the winner has majority support, but data shows that this often happens because it distorts the final vote.

Less than one percent of mailed ballots are rejected in the average U.S. election, but a 2019 Maine Policy Institute analysis of nearly 100 RCV races found that, on average, “exhausted ballots” made up more than 10-times that amount. For those not familiar with the term, exhausted ballots occur when a voter does not rank one of the two final-round candidates, and their ballot is removed from the final tally.

In other words, these voters cast legible ballots, but were ultimately excluded when determining the “majority winner.”

A report by Princeton professor Nolan McCarty submitted to the U.S. District Court in Maine found that, in 15 of 98 races studied, more than 20 percent of ballots were exhausted. McCarty also found higher rates of exhausted ballots among electorates with more elderly and non-college-educated voters.

Often because of high rates of exhausted ballots, more than six-in-ten RCV winners do not earn a majority of votes cast. Some say this can be solved through voter education, but McCarty saw higher rates of exhausted ballots even among electorates with more experience with RCV elections.

Under RCV, not only must voters understand the issues and candidates on their ballots, but they must strategically plot their choices to maximize their effect on the outcome. By declining to rank every candidate or choosing to vote for less-widely popular third-party candidates, their ballots are unwillingly diluted.

In this way, RCV has its own “spoiler effect,” similar to the way in which today’s third-party voters must succumb when asked to choose one of the two major party candidates to avoid “throwing away a vote.” It is certainly no better in this regard.

The story of Burlington, Vermont highlights another crucial flaw. In 2009, a three-way RCV race for mayor pitted Progressive Bob Kiss against Democrat Andy Montroll and Republican Kurt Wright. Kiss won the election, but could have lost if more Wright voters ranked Kiss first. This would have sent Montroll to second place in the first round, giving him enough votes from Wright in the second round to defeat Kiss. Montroll lost, even though he was the “middle-of-the-road” candidate preferred over all others head-to-head. Counterintuitively, voters who ranked Wright first and Montroll second would have been better off not voting at all.

Conservatives and libertarians should also be skeptical of RCV because it requires centralized vote counting.

The following year, 52 percent of Burlington voters, among the most progressive local electorates in the country, voted to repeal RCV.

Conservatives and libertarians should also be skeptical of RCV because it requires centralized vote counting. Decentralized, local-level reporting is an important part of American election integrity. But in rural RCV states like Maine and Alaska, the secretary of state contracts with private couriers to transport hard drives of ranked ballot data to a centralized location in order to be tabulated by RCV software. This opens up the vote counting process to greater risks of fraud and mismanagement.

Indeed, these are among the reasons why Massachusetts voters, especially those in working-class areas outside the elite bubble of greater Boston, rejected RCV in November 2020. Despite out-spending the opposition nearly 3,000-to-1, RCV proponents ultimately lost by 10 points.

One thing is certain: RCV is inherently more complex and confusing to voters than the status quo, which is reflected in the level of exhausted ballots and disaffected voting blocs.

This critique should not be read as an absolutist defense of plurality voting. Systems like approval voting — which is simpler than RCV and does not require voters to either endorse a candidate they don’t like or risk being removed from the final count — may indeed serve us better in the long run.

Whichever voting system is used, it should meet some basic criteria – including making sure that casting a ballot is as easy as possible, and that every voter is assured that his or her vote will count equally toward the result.

Unfortunately, Ranked Choice Voting fails even these simple tests.

Nick Murray is policy analyst with the Maine Policy Institute.