Debunking the Top Ranked-Choice Voting Myths
- BY Sarah Coffey
Ranked-choice voting: It’s the latest election trend sweeping the nation—in places where it hasn’t been banned, that is.
Advocates for ranked-choice voting like to say it’s “fair” and “simple,” but if the goal is free and accurate elections, it’s nothing but bad news.
Ask someone who has voted in a ranked-choice voting election, and you’ll likely hear horror stories of how it took weeks to declare a winner, how their ballot—along with thousands of others—ended up thrown out, or how the winner didn’t have majority support.
Simply put, ranked-choice voting is an unfair, disenfranchising, and convoluted process, and states like South Dakota, Idaho, Florida, and Tennessee are wise to ban it.
Let’s do a deeper dive into the realities of this disastrous voting model compared to the promises made by advocates:
Myth: Ranked-choice voting is fair.
Fact: With ranked-choice voting, thousands of ballots end up uncounted and thrown out.
Any system of voting that results in valid voters’ ballots ending up in the trash, uncounted, is not fair.
Ranked-choice voting requires voters to rank every candidate that appears on the ballot—from the one they like best, to the one they like least. This includes candidates they don’t like and would never, ever support. If you don’t rank every candidate, you run the risk of your ballot being thrown out—and not counted.
This isn’t hypothetical, either—it happens often. In Alaska’s 2022 special election to fill a congressional seat, nearly 15,000 Alaskan votes were thrown out before the count was completed and Democrat Mary Peltola declared the winner. More than 11,000 of these were tossed because they only voted for Republican candidates instead of ranking all candidates. In New York’s recent mayoral election, nearly 15 percent of the total ballots cast were thrown out for the a similar reason.
Imagine showing up to the polls on Election Day: You cast your ballot for the candidate you like the most, and then leave the polling place—but you’re left wondering if your ballot will be tossed or counted. There is no confidence with ranked-choice voting—and no way to track whether your ballot was one that was thrown out or not. It’s this kind of uncertainty that causes voters to feel disenfranchised and wonder if their vote really counts or not—this is the definition of unfair.
Myth: Ranked-choice voting works.
Fact: In ranked-choice voting, winners end up losing.
In our country’s electoral history, it’s always been the same: The person who garners the most votes wins. With ranked-choice voting, that is clearly not the case. Distressingly, ranked-choice voting often results in the opposite scenario—those candidates that had broad initial support in early tabulation rounds frequently end up losing to those with a smaller percentage of the vote.
This happened in Maine’s 2018 election in the 2nd Congressional District. In the first round of tabulation, Republican Bruce Poliquin won 46.3 percent of the vote. Yet he ultimately lost to Democrat Jared Golden, who got 45.6 percent of the vote. A similar situation happened in a Maine city commission race—one of the eventual winners initially had just four percent of the vote, and two of the candidates who initially had the most votes lost.
If elections are to give the people the decision to elect their representatives, a system that convolutes the counting process to the point that those with less support ending up winning doesn’t work.
And if you want free, fair elections where the winner is declared on election night, ranked-choice voting is decidedly not the way to go. Ranked-choice voting consistently threatens fast and accurate ballot counting because the seemingly endless rounds of redistributing and retabulating votes makes the counting process take weeks, sometimes even months.
Myth: Ranked-choice voting is simple.
Fact: Ranked-choice voting is confusing and complicated.
With normal one-person-one-vote elections, a voter gets to cast a ballot for the candidate they support. With ranked-choice voting, a voter casts a ballot—but that ballot may end up being thrown out and not counted. That election may take weeks, maybe even months, to call. The candidate declared the winner may have a shockingly small percentage of the vote.
And hopefully, the process will lead to accurate ballot counting but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not that will happen. An entire county in the San Francisco area determined that it announced the wrong winner in a recent ranked-choice voting election—and now it is reexamining every election conducted with this method.
By design, ranked-choice voting is confusing and complicated. And because of this, every vote does not count—by its very nature, it is undemocratic.
Conclusion: Ranked-choice voting is a disaster.
In example after example, ranked-choice voting leaves a trail of confusion, frustration, and disenfranchisement of voters in its wake. This is reason enough for Americans to say enough is enough and demand their states act—as many have, like Florida, Idaho, South Dakota, and Tennessee, to prevent ranked-choice voting from becoming commonplace. Even states that do have ranked-choice voting, like Maine and Alaska, have bills currently in play to try to eliminate the practice.
Americans go to the polls to have their voices heard, not participate in a confusing web of tabulation games like ranked-choice voting. Our traditional one person, one vote system works—and we shouldn’t replace it with an unmitigated disaster like ranked-choice voting.