Letter to the editor: Ranked choice voting a bad idea

Editor:

At last week’s council meeting I was surprised to hear two people requesting the city council support a resolution for Ranked Choice Voting. I was unaware of any resolution being proposed. When I heard them speaking about how wonderful it is, it frightened me and I decided right then to speak on it. I’m concerned that it is being pushed so heavily and people do nor understand it.

Ranked Choice Voting allows candidates with marginal support from voters to win elections. If four people were running for a position, voters would rank them in order of preference. If no single candidate wins a first-round majority of the votes, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and another round of vote tallying commences. If a voter’s first choice is eliminated, then the vote goes to the second choice and so on. Eventually one candidate receives a majority (over 50%) and wins the election. If a voter did not rank all of the candidates, as they only wanted one, their vote would be thrown out.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 vetoed a bill to expand ranked choice voting in his state, saying it was “overly complicated and confusing” and “deprives voters of genuinely informed choice.”  One example was the mayor’s race in Oakland, California, in 2010 — the candidate that received the most first-place votes lost the election to “a candidate on the strength of nearly 25,000 second- and third-place votes” after nine rounds of redistribution of the votes.

A study published in 2015 that reviewed 600,000 votes cast using ranked choice voting in four local elections in Washington state and California found that “the winner in all four elections received less than a majority of the total votes cast.

“In Maine in 2018, the first-ever general election for federal office in our nation’s history was decided by ranked choice voting in the Second Congressional District in Maine. Jared Golden was declared the eventual winner—even though incumbent Bruce Poliquin received more votes than Golden in the first round. There were two additional candidates in the race, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar. However, the Maine Secretary of State, Matt Dunlop, ‘exhausted’ or threw out a total of 14,076 ballots of voters who had not ranked all of the candidates.”

This is just a small bit of information on Ranked Choice Voting. For Edmonds City Council to consider a resolution on Ranked Choice Voting without any knowledge or information about the complexity of it, makes no sense. I strongly urge citizens to weigh in on this issue to council. It’s too important not to.

Thank you.

Susan Hughes
Edmonds

21 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Ranked choice voting a bad idea”

  1. I grew up in Maine and Ranked Choice was debated heavily. Maine Constitution says that ranked choice voting is not allowed so they only elect federal representatives using ranked-choice. Their next governor (for example) will not be chosen through Ranked Choice.

    “Ranked Choice Voting allows candidates with marginal support from voters to win elections.”
    I really like this part of this idea, but it doesn’t seem to have that effect. A traditional caucus has that effect (see Warren G. Harding, RNC 1920).

    Here are the issues I’m hearing from my friends in Maine. The Democrats and Republicans are on the ballot each as one candidate. Other candidates will get on the ballot and shown as an equal choice [if they can get enough signatures to run]. The two major parties will appear on the ballot with smaller fringe parties (this is great right?). In practice what happens is the smaller fringe parties are actually cultivated by the major party as part of a coalition. A major party will help minor parties get on the ballot. Why? Voter participation is increased by catering to esoteric platforms that likely wont win, but the major party still creates the coalition hoping to be a second choice. The end result is a [say] Green Party candidate runs promising to ban campfires, and they get help (exposure, maybe money, canvasing for signatures, etc, etc) to be on the ballot by the DNC. New voters are attracted to a more relatable, yet esoteric platform. This increases voter participation, but ultimately enables the major party to get a vote while not directly promising anything to their voter (or even appealing to their voter). Ranked Choice Voting encourages the major parties to cultivate minor parties in bad faith. It’s a race to see which major party can create more minor candidates on their coalition.

    Why not get a computer, using artificial intelligence [something that is party agnostic] to draw the districts and end gerrymandering?

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  2. Please reject Rank Choice Voting. It as another attempt to “reimagine” something that is of great value in our country. One person, one vote is the hallmark of our Democracy. The left continues to push for change and most everything it has “reimagined” from policing to national and local governance is a disaster. RCV will actually complicate elections. It will benefit fringe groups and it will eliminate the two party system. More importantly it will eliminate the one person, one vote system that has made this country a beacon of freedom throughout the world. 

    Rank Choice Voting violates equal protection (one person, one vote) and due process. This is simply another attempt by the left to change our system, to complicate and confuse the electorate and to tear down everything we value.

    The City Council should dismiss this proposal out of hand. 

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    1. Good points. It is an upset-the-apple-cart tendency like you’re saying. Change first the sake of it. A simple, meaningful reform was proposed by Jesse Ventura… put “None of the Above” an all ballots.

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    2. I am actually one of those who spoke in favor of RCV at the recent council meeting, and I am decidedly not left wing in my political views.

      You are correct that, over time, RCV would eliminate the two party system by allowing candidates with good ideas a realistic chance of winning without putting a “D” or “R” next to their names. I don’t see how this is a bad thing. However, the candidates most benefited by RCV are actually “compromise” (i.e. generally more moderate) candidates because they can draw support from across the political spectrum. Just look at NYC, where the Democratic party recently chose Eric Adams, a moderate, pro-police candidate, over two much more extreme candidates as their mayoral pick under RCV.

      And I strongly disagree that “the one person, one vote system” is what “has made this country a beacon of freedom throughout the world.” What you’re thinking of is the U.S. Constitution, which intentionally does not define voting systems for states and localities. The Founders recognized that the states should be “laboratories of democracy,” where different approaches could be tried out in our constant pursuit of “a more perfect Union.” Algorithmically, all RCV does is allow you to run a series of run-off elections in a multi-candidate race without having to actually conduct more than one election, and run-offs are a well-established democratic innovation implemented throughout the U.S. In my mind, RCV is just the next step in this evolution.

      And is ranking candidates on a ballot really that complicated? Surely you are already doing something similar to make your choice of candidate under our current system?

      Ultimately, RCV is non-partisan, and very popular wherever it has been implemented (notably the Republic of Ireland has been using RCV in their national elections since they declared independence in 1919). If you want a good primer on RCV and it’s myriad measurable benefits, fairvotewa.org has a series of explainers and white papers that lay it all out.

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    3. A few comment in response to the points Scott Victor notes:

      Ranked Choice Voting is not a “left” thing, it’s nonpartisan. The Republican Party in Indiana, Utah, and Virgina all used Ranked Choice Voting in their 2020 conventions. Legislators in Utah have introduced legislation to adopt Ranked Choice Voting for all state and federal offices, expanding beyond the 23 cities in Utah that already use Ranked Choice Voting. In 2020, Virginia passed a local options bill like HB1156 and both parties in Virginia used Ranked Choice Voting to select statewide candidates in 2021, which many are crediting in selecting moderate Republican candidates that won their races. SHB1156 in WA has bipartisan support.

      RCV has been already found in courts to honor the “on person/one vote principle”. It’s also recieved overwhelming positive support and found “easy to use” where it’s been adopted.

      Finally, the resolution before the council isn’t adopting RCV. It’s simply to support SHB1156 that allows local jurisdiction the choice to adopt RCV if they want.

      Just offering some facts and data vs. opinion.

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    4. Ranked Choice Voting is fairly easy for voters to rank their preferences than rather vote for one. RCV elections is still one person, one vote but whoever you voted first on your ballot isn’t thrown out in later rounds; it’s just transferred to whoever you ranked as number 2. Preferential Voting or instant run-off voting will help strengthen American democracy because voters can now vote for their favorite candidates without fearing that in doing so; there going to be a spoiler and your accidentally going to help elect the candidate they like. You will see far more positive campaigns because candidates will be incentivized to reach out to as many voters as possible, even the ones supporting their opponent to get their second choice votes. RCV will ensure that the winner has the consent of the majority to govern which is the hallmarks of democracy.

      Also, in the 2021 NYC local election alternative voting was a ultimate success with 77% of New Yorkers want to use the system again & even 95% of them found ranking the candidates simple or easy to complete.

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    1. That’s actually how RCV works as well. You don’t get more than one vote, your vote just goes to your “next choice” candidate if your first/second/third/etc. choice is eliminated. This gives everyone input on the final choice of elected official, even if none of their “top choices” were viable options. This is effectively the same as running a series of run-off elections without actually having to run those elections (since everyone has already specified what their “next choices” would be), which is a huge money-saver.

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  3. Too many people are already suspicious about our election procedures and I’m not sure how this change would improve that situation. Indeed I suspect it would serve to amplify the distrust. At first blush I thought it might be a good idea but now have strong second thoughts about it.

    The big problem locally seems to be the intrusion of partisan political party activity into what are supposed to be non-partisan local elections. This began as a right wing tactic of the Republican party to put biased people on school boards, city councils, port districts, fire districts etc. in order to push their agendas at the grass roots level. The local Democratic Party has done a great job of stealing that tactic to increase it’s grass roots influence on public decisions. I just read an article to the effect that the Proud Boys group are now planning to use this tactic to get on school boards and city councils where they can push their ideas in supposedly unbiased venues.

    Ranked choice would be an attempt to mitigate this tactic of both major parties but would probably not work very well in practice to accomplish that. It would definitely destroy the one man/one vote concept of our electoral system of the majority should rule theory.

    One of my self imposed rules (I frequently fail at) for commenting here is to try to have some sort of positive ideas for making things better and not just complaining. I think the only sure way we will ever get most of partisan politics out of our city government is to switch to Strong Council (elected out of districts or neighborhoods) and City Manager.

    The great example of how this functions well is our Port of Edmonds, based on both a district elected and at large system of choosing commissioners. They hire a professional Port Administrator to handle the nuts and bolts issues. They keep it simple – just serving the needs of their clients and all the citizens as well as possible. They don’t get stuck in the weeds constantly.

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    1. In response to Clinton Wright, the benefit of RCV is that more candidates can be in a race without having to deal with primaries and runoffs. The only reason to have a primary is to narrow the field of candidates, essentially reducing the choices available to the voter. If one further looks beyond RCV to an idea of eliminating federal House districts within the states, RCV becomes a tool for eliminating the possibility of partisan gerrymandering.

      This can be accomplished in 2 different ways. House districts can be eliminating using RCV where the candidates with the most votes would be selected for the available seats, up to the allocation for each state by the Electoral College representation. RCV would ensure all candidates get an equal opportunity to be seated, independent of any attempt to create protected seats or voter disenfranchisement by deliberately diluting votes.

      The apportionment of the seats within each state could be handled either by seating the top candidates by vote until all seats are filled, or if political parties remain in play, each party can be granted the number of Electoral College seats based on the percentage of the vote each party receives in aggregate, and then within each party, the top candidates will be seated until their party’s allocation is met.

      In either of the approaches above, there will be a weakening of the current Two-Party system, allowing other parties to participate in the House of Representatives. That will also weaken the leverage that any party has with regard to attempting to compel members of a particular party to vote any particular way.

      The lack of confidence in our voting isn’t only about whether votes are getting counted, it is also very much about whether candidates are allowed to compete, and voters are allowed to have a voice. RCV accomplishes both enabling candidates to compete in a single RCV ballot, and voters to have a greater voice in selecting those candidates.

      Ultimately, I believe that addressing gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement will be one of the strongest ways to restore voter confidence.

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  4. The RCV is actually not a fair way to vote, because although voters might feel that they really like candidate 4, they would feel that they’d “squander” their vote if they ONLY voted for 4, so would also write into the preference list, in order not to lose their voting power, and thus diluting their candidate’s chances. If the fringe parties are disparate, with nothing in common, you can’t even estimate where and how the backwash of the vote redistribution would go. Not only that, but one party might help organize minor parties, where one might have the same ideas but lean left, and another have the same ideas but lean right, thus ensuring that all those votes are funneled into the big party that corrupted the system. Let’s also not forget that any miscount at EVERY level would have bigger and bigger impact, as they decide who gets the votes.

    In Europe there are more parties, ensuring not more representation, but more horse trading, talking, fighting. As one majority party wins, the guy who was in charge of education is now the minister of health, the woman in charge of the treasury becomes the minister for the environment, or viceversa: politicians with no real expertise, who are shuffled around due to their connections and loyalties, not their expertise. All of it, making for more governmental paralysis.

    In corporate shareholder voting, there is a is one method, where if you own 10 shares, and there are 4 board seats to be filled, you get 10x=40 votes. You can put them all on 1 candidate, or distribute them, as you wish among the others. That would be the most fair way to do RCV: we get as many votes as there are candidates, and we use them as we wish, except for the fact that the Constitution is totally against that, due to its 1 man, 1 vote. So, the only fair system available to us is 1 voter, 1 vote. Anything else, would be to reinvent the flat tire, as it is unwieldy, and unconstitutional.

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    1. This thread is really smart. Good points all around. Tricia accurately points out the weird horse-trading, coalition-farming effect. RCV is effectively a Caucus System (which is the best system), except there is no debate BETWEEN the run-off. As the lowest candidate drops off, there’s no debate or discussion to entise votes over to a remaining candidate. The second choices are a coalition slate. Ironically the WA DEms use a pure Caucus System, whereas Republicans here are bound to the primary. Dems here run their Caucus in using the republican model, but Republican use plurality. Completely backwards.

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  5. Actually first past the post allows people with marginal support to win elections. In a larger context like a national context, it slowly creates a two party system that deprives us of real political post. In a first past the post system with multiple parties, it is possible to win an election with a minority of the vote simply by having more votes than the other candidates. When multiple candidates run for a position, you are discouraged from voting for third party candidates with a lower chance of winning, and you are forced to pick the “least bad” candidate. In a first past the post system, marginally supported candidates are already winning elections. Does anyone actually believe that most Democrats in America really wanted Joe Biden to be president? I haven’t met a single young left wing American who thinks Joe Biden is a good president. Joe Biden won the primary based solely on a virtue of “he can beat Trump”. In a ranked choice system, Americans are no longer forced to make a gamble on whether or not their preferred candidate can beat their least preferred candidate. This letter really failed to provide any arguments against ranked choice voting on its own merit, and seems to simply be afraid of change.

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  6. Responding to the opinion letter from Susan Hughes:

    I agree with Susan that change can be hard and sometime frightening when we don’t understand. It’s important to note that the resolution before the Edmonds City Council is simply to support SHB1156 – a bill that allows local jursiddictions the choice to adopt RCV if they desire. It’s NOT forcing adoption of RCV on anyone. I believe that giving local jurisdictions choices is a positive thing.

    Ranked Choice Voting is gaining popularity across the country and consistently is viewed as simple and positive where it’s been adopted. An article with list of benefits can be found at https://tinyurl.com/FVWBENEFITS

    The concerns Susan listed are taken directly from an article posted to the Heritage Foundation (https://www.heritage.org/election-integrity/report/ranked-choice-voting-bad-choice) and have been been shown as innaccurate and/or misleading by a larger collection of data refuting the claims (https://www.fairvote.org/ranking_is_easy_a_response_to_misleading_claims_about_voter_errors).

    I respect others may have different opinions on the benefits of RCV, but prefer to examine all data and offer an informed perspective.

    I hope others with join me in reaching out the the city council and express support for Edmonds passing the resolution supporting SHB1156.

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  7. If RCV is implemented, you feel obliged to vote in that way, otherwise your vote is discounted by those who vote by the RCV method. You only vote 1 vote, while by voting RCV, you can shape and influence votes towards your favorite candidate….anything that says “Fair vote is easy”, as if RCV is a fair vote, shows its bias at the domain name. Starting with “People rank their choices all the time” is a simplistic way to equate voting as a choice between chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. Voting is more serious, more important, more crucial.

    A lot of the “fringe” groups are voted for due to virtue signaling, which is why 1 vote per person, as defined in the constitution is the only way to go.

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  8. I think it’s important to continue to reiterate that the resolution in question is not to adopt Ranked Choice Voting, it’s simply to encourage Olympia to give Edmonds and other cities the *option* to use Ranked Choice Voting. While we can debate whether or not RCV would be best for us here in Edmonds, surely we can agree that the option should be available to us so we can have that debate and other communities in the state that would like to use Ranked Choice Voting may choose to do so.

    In response to a couple of concerns, voters who use Ranked Choice Voting consistently find it easy to use and prefer it to First Past the Post or Top Two. In Utah’s RCV pilot program, 86% of first time RCV voters said it was easy to use and 82.5% of voters responded that it should continue for future elections (https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2021/05/11/many-utahns-will-use/). In New York 95% of voters found RCV easy to use and 77% wanted to continue using RCV (https://tinyurl.com/ysbrkjb4).

    RCV has the potential to improve the way our democracy works, improve the civility of our political discussion, and give all of us an opportunity to better express ourselves electorally. It’s a non-partisan solution. And voters who have had the opportunity to use it like and find it easy to use.

    I believe that Edmonds and other cities in Washington should have the option to utilize Ranked Choice Voting.
    For this reason, I think it’s important that the Edmonds City Council pass the resolution endorsing HB 1156 – the Local Options Bill.

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    1. Hint: we are NOT New York…RCV influenced by such thought leaders in NY like deBlasio and the Love Gov Cuomo

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    2. Kyle, it’s not at all about the “ease of use”, but all about the outcome. If the fringe parties’ ideas are great, people who vote for them should commit , but if the ideas don’t get traction, these parties should stay small, or disband. Giving them hope by voting for them to assuage whatever we felt that compelled us to vote for them, and letting them let’s say become #3, will also increase the campaign expenses all around. As to the faint hope that RCV voting would improve civility in our discussion that is bandied about, let’s face it, there’s no proof or reason for that, unless people choose act on it, and that has nothing to do with the number of parties, as long as the number is greater than 1.

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  9. Tricia, I’m glad you brought up civility. There are several studies from around the country that indicate that civility is increased when RCV is used. This page gives the rundown on several of them: https://www.fairvote.org/research_rcvcampaigncivility. I’d link them here but that would take up too much space.

    As for third parties, here in Edmonds, it’s not about parties as we are non-partisan. And there’s no evidence that it increases costs of campaigns (far from it since in most cases, primaries can be eliminated lowering costs for both candidates and the municipalities running elections).

    RCV ensures more effective and majoritarian candidates get elected. If there’s added competition from third parties (or, in Edmonds case, more candidates) the dynamics of RCV mean that not only is negative campaigning less effective, but the frontrunner parties (or candidates) are pushed to be better versions of themselves. And whether we’re Republicans, Democrats, third party supporters, or none-of-the-above, better versions of all the parties is something we should all be in support of.

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