The county gave RCV its first test in the May Democratic primary to fill two county board seats. But widespread voter confusion over RCV’s complicated tabulation formula and unpredictable results led Arlington to send it to the junkyard after just one use.
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Arlington was the first jurisdiction in Virginia to use RCV, and if voters are lucky, it will also be the last.
Most Americans understand how elections work: the person with the most votes wins. But under RCV, all that changes. Rather than vote for one candidate in a race, voters rank many candidates in every race. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the first-place vote, candidates are eliminated and votes are redistributed until someone clinches a majority of the remaining ballots.
In Arlington, voters were asked to rank three out of six candidates from first to last. After multiple rounds of elimination, the candidates who got the first and third most first-place votes wound up winning.
Arlington voters found out first hand why the Washington Post called RCV a “hard to follow” that “not many people understand.” But RCV is problematic for more reasons than its cumbersome nature.
If a voter fails to rank every candidate on their ballot, they risk having their one and only vote thrown out during elimination rounds, a common occurrence euphemistically dismissed as “ballot exhaustion” but that in truth amounts to disenfranchisement.
Often, the candidates who should win in ordinary elections are ultimately defeated by RCV. That happened to Arlington’s Natalie Roy, who got the second most votes and would otherwise have secured one of the two nominations. Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin of Maine also won a plurality of votes but went on to lose his RCV election. Concerns over the undemocratic nature of RCV prompted the Arlington NAACP to closely monitor RCV election results so that “no one’s foundational right to vote becomes disenfranchised or impeded.”
Proponents of RCV used to claim that the system ensures candidates win with a majority of public support. But now, their tune is changing. FairVote, the largest national organization pushing for widespread use of RVC, recently conceded to The Washington Post that RCV is focused on giving “more of a voice” to “factions that are not large enough to win a seat otherwise.”
In fact, FairVote defended Arlington’s bizarre results, claiming that RCV helps ensure that a “narrow majority” does not win. There you have it: RCV is not about revealing consensus, it is about suppressing majorities in favor of election results that political elites deem sufficiently inclusive.
Even worse is the fact that efforts to establish unwieldy RCV are fueled by left-wing dark money groups focused on reshaping elections for partisan gain. Groups backed by left-wing mega donors like George Soros are funding lobbyists and ballot measure initiatives to push RCV nationwide.
They start with cities and counties, hoping to normalize RCV in smaller contests where the problems are easier to conceal. Then they push RCV for state and federal elections.
Meanwhile, other big monied special interests and even wealthy foreign investors are backing programs that use lawsuits to rewrite state voting laws or push liberal influence into election offices through programs like the U.S Alliance for Election Excellence. In other words, the left is trying to comprehensively reshape voting for political gain.
Virginia is not the only state where dark-money forces have tried to re-engineer elections using RCV. So far, two states and about 60 cities and counties are using RCV. Many others may face pro-RCV dark money-backed ballot measures in 2024. But states are beginning to push back. Already, five states have banned RCV including Tennessee, Florida, Idaho, South Dakota and Montana.
And jurisdictions that tried RCV are walking away. Utah launched a pilot RCV program in 2019. 23 towns and cities ultimately joined, but now nearly half have since pulled out over concerns about cost and diminishing public trust in election processes from using RCV.
Sixty-five percent of voters in Aspen, Colorado likewise voted to repeal RCV in favor of returning to a traditional election process after just one election relying on the gimmicky system. And Alaskans may do the same.
What is clear is that RCV fails to either improve election processes or deliver confidence. Arlington County is the latest to try it and reject it. It’s time for every state to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat by banning ranked-choice voting.
Jason Snead is executive director of Honest Elections Project Action, a nonpartisan group supporting free and honest elections.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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