Sep 7, 2022
Does ranked-choice voting help elect moderates and minority candidates? Or is it, as Trumpists claim, a scam to rig elections?
As you may have heard, democracy is apparently at genuine risk in America. This is, at once, hard to believe and yet nearly impossible not to believe. And, yes, Joe Biden gave a speech about it and even accused election-denying MAGA Republicans of being semi-fascist.
Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects went more than semi-crazy about Biden’s use of the f-word, but I’d say the real debate should be over the use of “semi.”
Still, it’s hard to believe that our democratic system could simply collapse because, well, we’ve been at it for a long time, and despite its many inherent flaws, the American system has basically held up for more than 200 years through wars and depressions and all the rest.
Women did eventually get the vote. African-Americans eventually, after much bloodshed, got the vote, even as too many red states are now working to make it more difficult for the least advantaged of all colors to vote.
But if you look around, the ludicrous Trumpian attempts at 2020 election theft only reinforce the outlandishness of the Big Lie. And yet a majority of Republicans repeatedly tell pollsters they believe the election was rigged.
The latest evidence of Big Lie high crimes and misdemeanors comes from Georgia, where two well-known election-denying technology consultants were caught on surveillance equipment entering a county election office where they reportedly spent hours in the company of voting machines.
It gets even worse. The video recording was made on Jan. 7, one day after the insurrectionists made their riotous play at the U.S. Capitol. And then the techy deniers apparently returned to the same Georgia county office and returned a few more times after that.
The same two are apparently connected to a similar breach in Michigan. Now I’m starting to wonder why Tina Peters didn’t call on these guys. Or who knows — maybe she did.
Look, we know some of the critical problems in our democracy — like the outdated Electoral College system, which has allowed two presidents to be elected in this century without bothering to win the popular vote.
We know about the U.S. Senate, which in a country that celebrates its one-person, one-vote democracy also gives the same two votes — the same amount of power — to, let’s say, Wyoming (pop. 581,000) and California (pop. 39,000,000).
We know about gerrymandering, which Colorado, among other states, has tried to eradicate.
It’s hard to see how we’ll ever get rid of the Electoral College or the unrepresentative U.S. Senate. But maybe, eventually, Congress could pass a uniform system to protect voters in states where politicians are actively trying to diminish voting or diminish the amount of water you can drink while waiting in line to vote.
If Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema had agreed to a special voting-rights carve out to the undemocratic filibuster, a voter-protection act could have been passed this year.
And there are other reforms, too, including ranked-choice voting, in which you vote for one person and then rank the rest of the candidates. If no one gets 50%, the bottom vote getters are eliminated and second-place votes are distributed.
There are different ways to approach ranked-choice voting. It can be used in city or county elections, in statewide elections, in presidential primaries, or to eliminate party primaries altogether and just have candidates from any party run in the same primary, with the leading candidates moving to an instant run-off — unless one candidate has already received more than 50% of the vote and is declared the winner.
Liberals are now giddy about this prospect since Sarah Palin lost in a ranked-voting special election to fill out the term of the late Alaska Rep. Don Young. There were two Republicans in the race, who, in combination, received 60% of the vote.
Democrat Mary Peltola received 40%, but once third-place finisher Nick Begich’s votes were reallocated, Peltola had more than 50% of the redistributed vote and Palin had egg — or maybe in Alaska it was snow — on her face. There were enough Alaska Republicans who had declined to give Palin even a second-place vote, which gives one hope in these dark times. Of course, the last time Palin held office in Alaska, she quit midway through to spend her time making reality TV shows.
Despite the Palin vote, ranked choice doesn’t seem to favor either party. Most of those who favor it believe it helps prevent extremists from either side from winning office. Like many of you, I’m not necessarily against so-called extremists if they, you know, agree with me on key issues. To me, that’s a major flaw in ranking candidates.
But maybe the best part about ranked voting is that, as The Nation’s John Nichols wrote, you can vote for your actual favorite instead of playing pundit when you vote. In other words, if you vote for your longshot first choice, you can still safely rank the person whom you also like and has a better chance to win as your second choice.
That, we’re told, will give women and candidates of color, both under-represented in nearly every elective body, a better chance to win. If advocates are right, it would also tone down the ugliness in politics, because slandering Candidate X may cost you when it comes to X’s second-place ranked votes.
Is it closer to democracy, or, if you will, a democratic republic, than we have now? Or is it, as Palin calls it, voter suppression or as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton calls it, “a scam to rig elections”? The funny thing is in Alaska, if there were no run-off, Peltola would have won anyway. Some scam.
In Colorado, the ranked-choice question is already being asked. Ranked-choice voting is on the ballot in several Colorado cities this year, and as The Sun reported in its Unaffiliated newsletter — available to premium Sun members — Unite America, a pro-ranked-voting group based in Denver, says ranked choice will be an issue in the coming Colorado legislative session.
If our democracy really is at risk by continuing to run elections the old way, then maybe it’s time to try something new.