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Ranked-Choice Voting: A Disaster in Disguise

Key Findings

  • Ballots in ranked-choice voting elections are more complex than traditional "one-person, one vote" elections.
  • Exhausted ballots in ranked-choice voting races silence the voice of significant portions of the electorate.
  • Districts using ranked-choice voting have lower voter turnout rates.
  • Ranked-choice voting changes and delays the election counting process.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers should ban ranked-choice voting at all levels of government.

Background

Recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle fear for the survival of the American democratic system.1 Finding solutions to strengthen trust in the election process is essential to protecting the Republic. Ranked-choice voting (RCV), also called “instant runoff voting,” is portrayed as a viable alternative to the status quo, but in reality, it is a disaster.

Funded by the progressive Left, RCV advocacy organizations claim that this massive overhaul can improve voter confidence by providing more candidate choices, decreasing negative campaigning, and ensuring majority rule.2-3 But these are false promises, and the proliferation of RCV would be harmful to American elections.

Fortunately, states have a simple solution to help restore trust in elections by prohibiting RCV statewide and preempting local governments from adopting it.

Ballots in ranked-choice voting elections are more complex than traditional “one-person, one vote” elections

Almost universally, American elections are decided on the “one-person, one vote” principle, in which each voter chooses one candidate, and the winner secures the plurality of votes. By contrast, voters in RCV elections must rank candidates on the ballot.4 If no candidate wins a 50-percent majority, the race goes through multiple rounds of tabulation in an instant runoff.5

One of the biggest hurdles for voters in RCV elections is the difficulty of being informed about the candidates. Having a strong knowledge of all candidates on the ballot is a necessary component of active citizenship, but RCV creates the opportunity for several candidates without party affiliations to run in one race.6 This may seem manageable when there are four prominent candidates in a race for a high-profile position, but when there are upwards of 20 candidates running for an obscure local office, knowing all relevant details about the candidates’ positions and backgrounds becomes much more difficult.7

When making an informed decision at the ballot box becomes an onerous process, corruption becomes inevitable.

Casting a vote in an RCV election is difficult. Instructions for RCV ballots are generally cumbersome, often confusing voters.8 Because the process of filling out the ballot is difficult to understand, error rates for RCV elections remain higher than those of traditional elections.9 This results in more citizens having their votes thrown away because of an overly complex system.

Exhausted ballots in elections with ranked-choice voting silence voters

In traditional elections, every submitted ballot that follows the instructions is counted towards the result, but this isn’t the case with RCV.

“Exhausted ballots” in RCV elections do not count towards the final tally. While many RCV ballots are thrown out due to voter error in following convoluted instructions, ballots that follow the instructions to the letter can also be thrown away because the voter ranked candidates who are no longer in contention.10 As candidates are eliminated through multiple rounds of tabulation, voters have their ballots exhausted if they only ranked candidates that have been removed during successive rounds.11

In other words, for a voter’s voice to fully count in every round of an RCV election, he must vote for all candidates on the ballot, even those he may not support.

Because of ballot exhaustion, winners of RCV races do not necessarily represent the choice of all voters who participated. RCV claims to protect majority rule, but in reality, RCV creates an artificial majority by eliminating the votes of the lowest-scoring candidates during successive tabulations. One study of Maine elections found that, of 98 recent RCV elections, 60 percent of RCV victors did not win by a majority of the total votes cast.12

WITH RANKED-CHOICE VOTING, NOT ALL VOTES COUNT

Districts using ranked-choice voting have lower voter turnout rates

Implementing RCV lowers voter turnout rates. For example, both Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have run local elections using RCV for more than a decade, and both “lag well behind other major metropolitan cities in municipal election voter turnout.”15-17

In fact, comparatively lower voter turnout in jurisdictions using RCV is a consistent pattern. A study of San Francisco elections from 1995 to 2011 revealed a strong relationship between a decline in voter turnout and the adoption of RCV.18 Furthermore, during odd or off-cycle election years, RCV jurisdictions have on average eight percent lower voter turnout rates than non-RCV jurisdictions.19

Because RCV is more complex than traditional voting, the system inherently discourages new and infrequent voters from participating.20 Between voter confusion, high rates of ballot exhaustion, and the difficulty of tabulating the results, RCV increases the opportunity costs of electoral participation.

Ranked-choice voting changes and delays the election counting process

Perhaps the most concerning component of RCV elections is the required changes to the ballot counting process.

Similar to the primary election caucus process still used in certain jurisdictions, RCV ballots must be transported to a centralized location for counting due to multiple rounds of tabulation in the event of an instant runoff, potentially increasing the cost of the election and vulnerability to mismanagement.21 When informed that RCV increases election irregularities, 71 percent of all voters, regardless of party affiliation, are more likely to oppose RCV.22

Because of the convoluted and centralized tabulation process, counting the final results in RCV elections is time consuming, and rarely are election results available on Election Day. In fact, 66 percent of all voters are more likely to oppose RCV when they learn that declaring the winner can take days or weeks post-Election Day.23 Even minor delays in delivery of election results sparkconcerns of impropriety and significantly impact voter confidence—which our democracy cannot endure.

RANKED-CHOICE VOTING LEADS TO LENGTHY DELAYS IN ELECTION RESULTS

THE BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers should ban ranked-choice voting at all levels of government.

Sadly, many Americans lack confidence in the election process. While progressives offer RCV as a solution to this problem, such a needlessly complicated voting system leads to voter confusion, lower turnout, and slower election results.

More than 11 million Americans live in jurisdictions that use RCV, and it is quickly spreading across the country from Portland, Maine, to Berkeley, California.27 Maine and Alaska use RCV in all elections across the state, and several states, such as Nevada, Wyoming, and Kansas, have used RCV for their Democratic presidential primary races.28 Other states, including Virginia and Indiana, have used RCV ballots for Republican nominating conventions.29

The good news is that eliminating and restricting RCV has bipartisan support in state governments across the country. Just this year, both Florida and Tennessee passed sweeping legislation to ban RCV in all state and local races, which is the only way to stop municipalities from restructuring their electoral systems for the worse.30-31

Prominent Democrats also have a history of speaking out against RCV, including former California Governor Jerry Brown and current Governor Gavin Newsom.32 Vetoing the California State Legislature’s 2019 attempt to institute RCV for all state elections, Newsom expressed “concern that [RCV] has often led to voter confusion, and that the promise that [RCV] leads to greaterdemocracy is not necessarily fulfilled.”33 If even Governor Newsom is against RCV, then there must be serious grounds for skepticism.

Strengthening the trust that the American people have in the election process should not be a partisan issue. Banning ranked-choice voting is a measure that everyone ought to support to protect election integrity.

REFERENCES

1. Schoen Cooperman Research, “U.S. perceptions of government study,” Schoen Cooperman Research (2021), https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mSZs1IZoMeu2KQHE9_maQmVUMVXqV7NN/view.  

2. Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, “Ranked choice voting: A risk voters shouldn’t take,” Freedom Foundation of Minnesota (2021), https://freedomfoundationofminnesota.com/ranked-choice-voting/.  

3. Fair Vote, “Details about ranked choice voting,” Fair Vote (2022), https://www.fairvote.org/rcv#where_is_ranked _choice_voting_used.  

4. FGA, “The truth about ranked-choice voting,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Ranked-Choice-Voting-overview-7-13-2022.pdf.  

5. Ibid. 

6. San Francisco, “November 2, 2010 consolidated statewide direct primary election board of supervisors, district 10,” City of San Francisco (2010), https://sfelections.org/results/20101102/data/d10.html.  

7. Ibid. 

8. Alaska Policy Forum, “The failed experiment of ranked-choice voting: A case study of Maine and analysis of 96 other jurisdictions,” Alaska Policy Forum (2020), https://alaskapolicyforum.org/2020/10/failed-experiment-rcv/.  

9. RangeVoting.org “Spoilage and error rates with range voting versus other voting systems.” The Center for Range Voting (2019), https://rangevoting.org/SPRates.html.  

10. Alaska Policy Forum, “The failed experiment of ranked-choice voting: A case study of Maine and analysis of 96 other jurisdictions,” Alaska Policy Forum (2020), https://alaskapolicyforum.org/2020/10/failed-experiment-rcv/.   

11. Ibid. 

12. Isabelle Christie, “Expert report reveals weaknesses of RCV” Maine Wire (2020) https://www.themainewire.com /2020/07/expert-report-reveals-weaknesses-of-rcv.  

13. Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, “Ranked choice voting: A risk voters shouldn’t take,” Freedom Foundation of Minnesota (2021), https://freedomfoundationofminnesota.com/ranked-choice-voting/.  

14. San Francisco, “November 2, 2010 consolidated statewide direct primary election board of supervisors, district 10,” City of San Francisco (2010), https://sfelections.org/results/20101102/data/d10.html.  

15. Minneapolis, “Ranked choice voting history,” City of Minneapolis, Minnesota (2022), https://vote.minne apolismn.gov/ranked-choice-voting/history/.    

16. Unite America, “Fair Vote Minnesota,” Unite America (2022) https://www.uniteamerica.org/fund/fairvote-minnesota.  

17. Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, “Ranked choice voting: A risk voters shouldn’t take,” Freedom Foundation of Minnesota (2021), https://freedomfoundationofminnesota.com/ranked-choice-voting/.  

18. Jason McDaniel, “Ranked choice voting likely means lower turnout, more errors,” Cato Unbound (2016), https://www.cato-unbound.org/2016/12/13/jason-mcdaniel/ranked-choice-voting-likely-means-lower-turnout-more-errors/.  

19. Ibid. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Stephen H. Unger, “Instant run-off voting: Looks good—But look again,” Columbia University Blogs (2013), http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/~unger/articles/irv.html.  

22. FGA, “Voters oppose ranked choice voting,” FGA (2022) https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08 /National-Ranked-Choice-Voting-Message-Test-one-pager-8-11-22.pdf

23. Ibid. 

24. Amherst, “RCV in Minneapolis,” Town of Amherst, Massachusetts (2019), https://www.amherstma.gov /DocumentCenter/View/48861/Minneapolis-RCV-Overview-by-John-2019-09-25.  

25. Karen Matthews, “Eric Adams wins Democratic primary in NYC’s mayoral race,” Associated Press (2021), https://apnews.com/article/eric-adams-wins-nyc-democratic-mayoral-primary-9c564828a29831747f9c2e6f 52daf55e.   

26. Katie Glueck, “New York mayor’s race in chaos after election board counts 135,000 test ballots,” New York Times (2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/29/nyregion/adams-garcia-wiley-mayor-ranked-choice.html.  

27. FairVote, “Where ranked choice voting is used,” FairVote (2022) https://www.fairvote.org/where_is_ranked _choice_voting_used.   

28. Ibid. 

29. Ibid. 

30. Florida Senate Bill 524 (2022), https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/524/BillText/er/PDF.  

31. Tennessee Senate Bill 1820 (2022), https://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/112/Bill/HB1868.pdf.  

32. David Sharp, “Ranked choice as easy as 1, 2, 3? Not so fast, critics say,” Associated Press (2016) https://apnews.com/article/62c997cfd2ab403ca0b3c3333e1a9312.  

33. Gavin Newsom, “Veto Senate Bill 212,” Office of the Governor (2019), https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/SB-212-Veto-Message.pdf.   

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