If you can’t win on principles, why not find a way to game the system? There is a trend making its way around the country that we cannot allow in Texas, ,,Ranked Choice Voting.
RCV is the most common among many preferential or alternative voting systems appearing in districts all over the country. Proponents claim that it saves the time and expense of runoff elections. What they typically fail to mention are the costs to election integrity from these systems, like longer ballots, longer lines at the polls, voter confusion, a lack of transparency, and inaccuracy, among other issues.
How it Works, or Doesn’t
In a typical election, voters go to the polls and choose the one candidate they would like to win. The votes are then tallied, and the candidate with the majority (50% plus one) wins. If no candidate is able to get more than 50% of the votes, a runoff is held between the two candidates who received the most votes. Voters whose candidates didn’t make it into the runoff can then choose from one of the remaining candidates.
Preferential voting systems like RCV are designed to capture voters’ preferences so the voting machines can calculate the “runoff” results for the race. For example, Sally, Joe, Sue, and Jeff are all running for the same spot. Voters would see on their ballots that they can rank the four candidates as their first choice, second choice, third choice, and fourth choice. When the votes go through the tabulator, Sally gets 40% of the vote, Joe gets 35%, Sue gets 15%, and Jeff gets 10%. Well, Jeff got the lowest number of votes, so he would be knocked out of the race, and the machine would then tabulate the votes for the second choice of those who voted for Jeff as their first choice. So now Sally has 45%, Joe has 37%, and Sue has 7%. Now Sue drops out of the race, and the tabulator divides her voter’s second-choice and potentially third-choice votes amongst Sally and Joe. Confused yet?
They had quite a bit of confusion in ,,Oakland, California in 2022 when the algorithm miscounted the votes, and the wrong person was declared the victor in a school board race. This error was found, but there is no way of knowing how many more errors have gone undetected. The complications in the system and the heavy reliance on voting machine software erode the public trust.
Voters confused by the ranking system may only vote for one candidate, experiencing ballot exhaustion. Many voters do not have the time or ability to research every candidate in the race and rank them by priority. Voters are accustomed to choosing only one candidate, not all of them, and if they choose just one candidate, they are left out of the computerized runoffs and ,,disenfranchised.
The basic principle of one-person, one-vote is violated when some voters cast multiple votes while others cast just one. One ,,study found that 9.6-27.1% of ballots never make it to the final round of voting in RCV elections. All of those voters were not given a chance to vote in the final “election”. With participation dropping off as each candidate is elected, the final round can come out with the victor receiving less than 50% of the vote.
Representatives Not Restaurants
While RCV seems to be getting the most traction, there are other proposed systems. Approval Voting lets voters select as many candidates as they want, decoupling the number of votes from voters. Any savvy consultant could figure out how to game that system.
One of the most ridiculous examples is the Score Then Automatic Recount or STAR system. This method has voters assign candidates a star rating ranking them from worst to best. The one with the most stars gets elected. It is unclear whether this system is more reminiscent of kindergarten or a restaurant review.
Election integrity is a serious matter, not a game. Trust in the system has eroded to dangerous levels. To restore that trust, we must have voting systems that are highly transparent, quickly auditable, and easy for voters to understand.
Preferential voting systems do not save time, do not save money, do not increase participation, and do not belong in Texas.