Problems with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

A couple of years ago we were in Australia where a local explained their voting process. At the end of his lengthy explanation he said that he may not have not gotten all the details right, and that no one understands how it all works. I imagine someone must understand it, but the more I study RCV and Australian Instant-Runoff Voting (one of the many RCV varieties), the more I understand his confusion, and how troubling the push to use RCV is. 

(If you are not familiar with RCV, refer to the article linked below.) 

Multiple candidates ran in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election. The election was conducted using “plurality voting”, America’s traditional way of voting. In a plurality vote whoever gets the most votes wins, even if there are multiple candidates. The Texas vote was split and the candidate with the most votes won with only 39% of the vote. Advocates of RCV use this election to try to sell RCV. They argue that it is not democratic to have someone take office with less than 50% of the vote. If RCV had been in effect, then voters would have had had to vote for their second, third, and, perhaps, even fourth choices. Those choices could then have been used to add additional votes for each candidate until one candidate exceeded 50%. 

The first problem with that argument is that RCV voting would not change the fact that the first choices of the voters in the Texas election were insufficient to get any candidate to 51% of the vote. Counting second, third, or fourth choices as first choices is no more democratic than declaring the candidate with the most first place votes the winner. Plurality voting treats each candidate as a unique individual, and each voter votes for who they believe is the best candidate. There is nothing undemocratic, or unfair, about plurality voting. Candidates who chose to run in a race with multiple candidates run the risk of hurting the chances of similar candidates, and creating a chaotic election. RCV would add more layers of chaos.

The second problem is that RCV would require more time and effort to administer, and would, therefore, cost more than a simple plurality vote. The money it would take to pay for RCV would come from the taxpayers, and go to government, thus increasing the size and power of government, and moving the voting process further from the voters. 

Third, RCV places a huge burden on voters. In plurality elections, a voter must decide which person is the best for each office. In RCV elections voters must rank each candidate for each office. In practice, many RCV voters go into the poles knowing their top choice, and maybe they also know their second choice, or who they want last, but often the lower choices are made randomly since it is very hard to be able to really understand multiple candidates in multiple races. The result of a close RCV election could well be decided with votes cast by voters who knew nothing about the eventual winner. 

The fourth problem arises if a voter finds that only one candidate is acceptable to them. In that specific 2006 election mentioned above, I had no second choice. To me the choice was analogous to voting for one candidate who wanted to guide us around a canyon, or for one of a bunch of others who were all planning to take us along as they attempted to jump the canyon. If RCV would have been in effect, and if I would have been required to vote for a second choice, then I well could have ended up enabling someone I did not want in office to be be the winner. 

The symptom of the fifth problem is the number of rules it takes to set up RCV systems. Many rules are involved in RCV because there are many ways to implement RCV. Tabulating the votes in all RCV systems is complicated. Many precincts in our country have trouble counting the votes now. Plurality voting may not always seem “fair” but it is simple and logical. RCV’s complex vote tallying is much more vulnerable to fraud. The greater the opportunity for fraud, the more fraud is likely, and the more fraud there is, the less the votes of citizens matter. Switching to RCV would not result in elections that are any more “fair” than plurality voting. The opposite is likely true. 

A possible advantage of RCV is that it would probably enable more people to run for office. As others have said, the people the best qualified to lead are those who do not seek leadership. Under our current two party system, it is quite difficult to find a candidate who is not seeking power or status for himself or herself. Theoretically, having more candidates in each race would make it more likely that some of them would be not seeking personal gain. In practice, however, RCV seems more likely to attract even more status seekers, and even fewer humble public servants. (A better solution would be to expand the U.S. House of Representatives to more closely comply with the Constitution, and for the U.S. Senate to once again be appointed by the States. My thoughts on these ideas are explained elsewhere on this site.) 

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is troubling because its complexities create coalition majorities that would undermine the will of the true majority. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing designed to expand the size and power of government while pretending to be more democratic. We must remember that the people created government. A government based on the will of a simple majority of the people is far better than a government which creates complex rules to determine what constitutes a majority. 

JSK

Link to outside source with an explanation of RCV: https://ballotpedia.org/Ranked-choice_voting_(RCV)

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