Commentary

The Promise of a ‘True Majority’ With Ranked-Choice Voting Doesn’t Add Up

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Clare Hudson Payne’s June 9 BDN OpEd in support of ranked-choice voting is an example of what happens when people do not do their own research and just repeat talking points. I guess that’s why it was an opinion piece. Let’s review the reality of ranked-choice voting using data from cities that are using it and some places that already have rejected it.

Payne reiterates the biggest claim: “The process is repeated until a candidate has more than 50 percent of the total vote.” Proponents say ranked-choice voting guarantees a winner with a “true majority,” citing examples when more people had “voted against the winner” in our current system.

Actual results, however, have shown that there is a larger chance that Bigfoot would register to vote than a ranked-choice voting winner having a “true majority” after the complex algorithm of vote redistribution is employed.

Let’s just take a look at Portland’s 2011 mayoral election, in which they employed the ranked-choice voting algorithm to count the votes. With 19,728 voters casting ballots in this election with 15 candidates, the winner — Michael Brennan — after 14 rounds received 9,061 votes, or 45.9 percent support of all voters who cast ballots. As one headline read, it “Doesn’t add up,” with others calling it a “plurality with lipstick,” in which 54 percent of the voters did not want the winner.

Going west to San Francisco, research shows that a true majority is just as elusive as the Loch Ness monster. In one election for San Francisco’s District 10, 18,503 voters cast ballots using ranked-choice voting, but the winner, after 19 recounts, received just 4,321 votes. That means 75 percent of the voters voted against the winner.

Contrary to the claim of simplicity, instant run-offs are complicated and lengthy as evidenced by San Francisco’s District 10 race, which involved 20 rounds to determine a winner.

Further, this myth has been well documented in political science journals. Professors Craig Burnett of the University of North Carolina and Vladimir Kogan of Ohio State University studied four recent ranked-choice ballot races and stated ranked-choice voting “need not, and frequently does not, produce a winner who wins the majority — rather than plurality — of all votes cast.” How does this support the claim of “majority rule?”

As for the claim that ranked-choice voting will make campaigns civil, Payne cites a Rutgers University survey that found voters in four American cities with ranked-choice voting reported less negative campaigning. But the survey was funded by FairVote, a lobby group that pushes ranked-choice voting and has ties with the voting company Portland uses to run ranked-choice voting elections.

One only needs to look at the newspaper articles in cities that have tried ranked-choice voting to see if it has made them more civil.

The civility sales pitch was used in Oakland, California, to get people to support ranked-choice voting as well, and it did not materialize. Even the League of Women Voters commented in a 2010 article in the Oakland Tribune that the promise of civility didn’t happen.

Mudslinging has continued in all cities, including Portland, Maine.

At the end of the day, we have a voting system that works, and one that everyone understands. It is “one person, one vote,” and whoever gets the most support wins. We don’t need to experiment with a system that may be unconstitutional, according to the Maine attorney general, and that rewards voters who pick fringe candidates, giving them a second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth bite at the apple.

Cities, states and countries have rejected ranked-choice voting after seeing it did not live up to the supporters’ claims. Places where voters have repealed ranked-choice voting, after experimenting with it, include Burlington, Vermont; Aspen, Colorado; Cary, North Carolina and Pierce County, Washington.

Ranked-choice voting also has been repealed for judicial races in North Carolina. Telluride, Colorado, also will discontinue ranked-choice voting after the next election.

Places that have rejected ranked-choice voting at the ballot box include Fort Collins, Colorado; Glendale, Arizona; Duluth, Minnesota; and the United Kingdom. There are also ongoing efforts to repeal ranked-choice voting in San Francisco and Oakland, California.

For more than 100 years, our Maine Constitution has supported one person, one vote. Let’s keep voting simple in Maine.

*This article originally appeared in the BDN.

About Heather Sirocki

State Representative Heather Sirocki represents Maine House District 28 including part of Scarborough. She sits on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and can be reached at Heather.Sirocki@legislature.maine.gov.

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