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HomeBreaking NewsLies, Lucre And Leverage: The Left’s Long Game On Ranked Choice Voting

Lies, Lucre And Leverage: The Left’s Long Game On Ranked Choice Voting

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This MacIver Institute article was republished with permission. 


Wealthy Liberal Elites are Targeting Gullible in the GOP to Eliminate One-Vote-Per-Person

 

Ranked choice voting

The Image Above is from a July 3, 2023 Instagram Post by Rank The Vote, a National, “Non-Partisan” Ranked Choice Voting Organization, Funded by Unite America and FairVote. 

Ranked Choice Voting Legislation Targets Gullible Republicans

On Dec 12th, there was a hearing on a bill to upend the way Wisconsinites vote for members of Congress and U.S. Senate, eliminating partisan primaries and sending 5 candidates to the general election where they would be ranked by voters, and declare a winner through a complex system of eliminating candidates, shifting votes and throwing out ballots.

  • 5 states have a statewide ban on one person-multiple votes Ranked Choice Voting
  • 2 states use Ranked Choice Voting statewide – and have had controversial outcomes. A repeal effort is underway in Alaska, attempts to repeal have failed in Maine
  • 13 states use Ranked Choice Voting in some local races

Just a few years back, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) legislation was authored only by some of the most extreme partisan Democrats in Wisconsin. Now it’s spearheaded by Republicans, many of whom are recipients of campaign funds from liberal interests, dissatisfied with elections, who want to upend our one person, one vote system in order to manipulate outcomes.

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) seeks to control election outcomes by eliminating the current plurality structure where the candidate with the most votes wins, and replacing it with a multi-round, ballot-eliminating, and vote-shifting structure that gives some voters multiple votes, disenfranchises other voters entirely, all while making election integrity all but impossible to verify.

One might think this would be a non-starter in a state where trust in elections has recently been shaken. But in a profound irony, liberals who are claiming partisan money has too much influence in election-winners is putting gobs of their own partisan money into campaigns of their ideological opponents to buy a new voting structure in the state, advancing (they hope) the left. 

Ranked Choice Voting Is About Choosing Winners Voters Might Not Choose

Liberal elites, and some gullible Republican monied interests, don’t like the way voters vote and the candidates that win, so they are advancing an organized effort, in battleground states (which should tell readers something), dumping cash into campaign coffers of Republicans who will – after winning under the traditional one person, one vote structure – agree to change that system to elect candidates more palatable to the left-wingiest of the left wing.

That’s not speculation, that’s the roadmap laid out in a book written by one of those deep-pocketed, liberal elites (more on that roadmap later.) The left is looking for a way to swing outcomes their way, since they’ve failed at fielding candidates that can win the old-fashioned, one-vote-per-voter way.

Ranked Choice Voting supporters have a list of arguments against the current one-person, one-vote system including: voters don’t have enough choices, candidates are too extreme, the voters who turn out are too extreme, candidates elected are too extreme, campaigns are too negative, not enough eligible voters vote, and winning candidates don’t get a majority of votes cast.

A 2022 study (Buisseret & Prato, 2022) found that RCV exacerbates polarization when there is strong partisanship or low voter turnout; it can increase or decrease voter turnout; in strong partisan situations, it increases chances that the winning candidate does not garner a majority of votes cast.

Similarly, a 2023 study (Atkinson et al., 2023) found that Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as proposed here actually produces winning candidates who are more ideologically extreme than the state’s mainstream voter than other forms of RCV. The study found this effect most pronounced in the most polarized states – where IRC is being promoted as a solution for polarization. They say:

“Indeed, claims that IRV is effective at combating polarization contradicts over a century of research and discourse on IRV in particular and runoff voting in general. “

Yet the monied liberal elite financiers continue to claim RCV will deliver more democratic results, more moderate winners, and better government, while studies show RCV is unpredictable and caution it may well produce the opposite of these stated goals.

The Wisconsin Ranked Choice Voting Bill

What’s being proposed in Wisconsin is a mosh-pit, non-partisan primary advancing 5 candidates to the general where voters may rank those 5 in order of preference. They may choose to rank fewer than the five, but this will guarantee their ballots are “exhausted” or thrown out in later rounds of tabulations if their top choices do not survive. In other words, if a voter doesn’t wish to be disenfranchised, they are forced to cast one or more of their 5 votes for candidates whose beliefs they may detest, or for candidates they know little about. Those votes will count toward totals that purport to represent “majority support.”

One Wisconsin supporter and donor, co-founder (with Katherine Gehl) of Democracy Found, Austin Ramirez, shed light on the priorities of RCV supporters at the October WisPolitics luncheon about election reform.

Ramirez said if elections don’t deliver more moderate candidates, then almost nothing else matters, including accessibility and trust.

Ramirez also contended that only 10% of voters vote in primary elections, and they’re the most fringe, extreme voters. But last spring’s non-partisan spring primary (which garners nowhere near the turnout of a partisan primary) netted more than double that stated 10% turnout of the voting-age population. Liberal powerhouse Dane County turned out at more than 3 times the rate Ramirez suggests is the norm for fall partisan primaries, with 36% of the voting-age public voting in the spring primary.

But the facts don’t matter to the RCV supporters, and the studies don’t matter either.

The effort to advance Ranked Choice Voting across the nation is strategic, and strategically funded by left, and center-left activists who are pouring millions into initiatives they are selling as a means to elect more moderate representatives.

The Lucre is the Leverage

Another of the leading advocates and funders pushing RCV, Katherine Gehl, hails from Wisconsin. Gehl co-authored a book with a Harvard professor that makes the case for RCV, in particular the non-partisan primaries and final five ranked choice/instant runoff.

Their book, The Politics Industry, is a primer for how the wealthy donor class can change election outcomes to benefit more moderate elected officials, by spending money to elect state legislators who will in return use their positions to undo the flawed one-person, one-vote structure (which elected them) in favor of a RCV model that will benefit the goals of their funders.

This is the Gehl-Porter roadmap in a nutshell, the way they explain it:

The politics industry has two currencies; some customers pay with votes, some pay with money. Prepare for a protracted battle that can continue for years after the initial campaign has ended. Leverage ‘political philanthropy’ (i.e. cash) to fund campaigns for “political innovation’ (i.e. RCV). This political philanthropy or ‘special interest for general interest’ cash offers the best ROI out there because funding these campaigns is not cost-prohibitive. The cost to deliver Final Five (the RCV proposed here) to a state would range from $5 million for legislative action to $20-$25 million for a ballot initiative in a large state.

This once-in-a-generation window to change the rules of the legislative game is opening. And once we’ve got a new legion of officials elected via Final-Five Voting, our energy will shift to supporting a new crop of ‘procedural entrepreneurs.’

In other words:

The poor have only their votes, but wealthy liberals can rig the system to get the outcomes they want. As a bonus, it can be done at bargain-basement prices through contributions to individual legislative campaigns, or to finance ballot measure campaigns that will fundamentally undermine the rights and voting power of individual voters.

Gehl has given hundreds of thousands to Democrat parties and candidates across the nation, and a few thousand to GOP candidates. Porter has donated to both Democrats and Republicans.

Both Gehl and Porter also have given money to the Unite America Super PAC.

Unite America: The Ranked Choice Voting/Zuckerbucks Connection

Unite America, like many groups, has two arms. Unite America Institute is the ‘non-partisan, non-profit’ arm, while Unite America is the Super PAC that funds campaign efforts. Both entities are founded and supported financially by Democrats.

The seemingly more benign Unite America Institute has funded CTCL – the Zuckerbucks-funded entity that bought access to Wisconsin election administration, targeting Democrat areas for increased turnout to help skew the outcome.

Their priorities are Ranked Choice Voting, Full Vote at Home (where all voters are automatically mailed ballots for every election), redistricting reform where states establish independent citizen redistricting commissions to draw maps, and non-partisan primaries.

Unite America partners with the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), where Hillary Hall (of Colorado elections infamy) runs government affairs, advised by Tiana Epps-Johnson (of CTCL).

The Center for Civic Design (CCD), another uber-liberal group that collaborated with CTCL and NVAHI, is helping design RCV ballots. Whitney May, co-founder of CTCL, is on the Advisory Committee of CCD.

The supporters of the Ranked Choice Voting effort is the same incestuous money-sharing/shuffling group that was behind Zuckerbucks and are behind new efforts to control our votes.

Fair Vote is another group spending to promote Ranked Choice Voting in Wisconsin. Fair Vote lists their elected official supporters as Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and John Kerry. Their thought leaders include Jennifer Lawrence, Sam Wang (Princeton Gerrymandering Project), David Byrne, Katherine Gehl, Jon Fishman (Phish drummer), and Santa Claus (city council member in AK). It’s not exactly a list of moderates. There are some Republicans on their list, but precious few – there may be more actors and musicians.

Wisconsin Legislative Lucre

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given to Wisconsin legislative candidates in the past few years, much of it to Republicans, with more in the pipeline. Unsurprisingly, recipients of their funds are also authors of their bill.

The Lies

Lie: The Wisconsin Bill ISN’T Ranked Choice Voting

The supporters claim that the Ranked Choice Voting bill doesn’t create Ranked Choice Voting, even though the structure the bill creates is called Ranked Choice Voting in every study that examines alternative voting methods because it has voters rank candidates. Don’t buy it and don’t cave in to another effort by the left to rename something to suit their narrative.

Final Five Voting is Ranked Choice Voting.

Why lie about the name? Because conservatives generally don’t like the idea of RCV (because it’s usually pushed by liberals who would like fewer conservatives elected). The left believes conservative voters are generally ignoramuses and figure the name change will trick gullible Republicans, especially those they consider the ‘MAGA morons.’

One way they’re trying to fool the gullible is by claiming this voting scheme being pushed by wealthy liberal elites would have helped Wisconsin elect Trump. 

Lie: Under RCV Winners Will Have Majority Support

Anyone who understands what majority means should be suspicious about this contention. In the scenario contemplated for Wisconsin, 5 candidates would compete in the general election, making it possible, if not likely, no candidate would get a majority of first choice votes. As candidates with the lowest numbers of first place votes are eliminated, and second choice votes counting as much as first round votes, surviving candidates compile larger vote totals.

When voters do not rank all candidates (perhaps ones they don’t know or they dislike enough to refuse to vote for) their ballots are thrown out and their voices are silenced, while voters who may be randomly ranking candidates they may know nothing about will have their random rankings count toward a pretense of a majority.

And in practice, RCV can result in a complete fallacy of a majority even if you are willing to accept the nonsense notion that second, third, fourth and fifth-place votes are worth – and should count – the same as a first-choice vote. A 2018 Maine 2018 congressional race proves this:

In a 4-way general, the GOP candidate who would have won with close to a point lead over the second place under traditional voting lost the election to the next highest first-ranked (D) candidate, who picked up more of the third and fourth place voters second choice rankings – which count equal to the first-place rankings of every other voter.

In the course of this so-called majority victory, nearly 15,000 ballots – 5% of all ballots – were declared ‘exhausted,’ tossed out, and not counted. Once they started throwing out ballots, RCV produced an election where the “majority” winner really only garnered 48% of all ballots cast.

Because so many ballots are tossed out in later rounds of calculations, the results can be anything but a majority win.

Voters may not rank all candidates for reasons other than unfamiliarity and dislike. A 2021 study that looked at this ‘ballot truncation’ showed that voters who rank popular candidates in first place are less likely to complete rankings on their ballots. (Hoffman et al)

Another concern is that those who vote by mail who mismark ballots will not have the assistance of poll workers so have an increased risk of having a ballot that is thrown out, meaning some or all of their 1 to 5 votes won’t be counted.

A 2023 study that looked at deficiencies in Ranked Choice Voting elections in the U.S. over 18 years showed that in the majority of Ranked Choice Voting elections (52%), the ultimate winner still had not garnered a majority of votes cast.

Lie: Elections Will Be Cheaper

Wisconsin doesn’t have runoff elections as some other states do, so there can only be increased costs to RCV, and some of those will be substantial.

Voter education alone – because regardless of what advocates claim, voters do not – and could not possibly – intuitively understand the myriad various forms and nuances of Ranked Choice Voting.

New York spent $15 million on ranked choice voter education efforts in 2021.

The city of Portland spent nearly a million – just the city – on voter education. And we see from accounts of this spending that the education efforts are government-targeted based on racial and ethnic groups – much like the Zuckerbucks spending worked.

Mechanics alone will cost more: there will be costs for legal counsel to implement RCV. Then there will be costs for design of ballots, and increased cost for ballot printing to account for the numbers of improperly prepared ballots. Reprogramming voting machines for a much more complex tabulation will cost, and for those machines that are unable to be reprogrammed, new purchases will be an expense.

If separate ballots are issued for the partisan and non-partisan RCV primaries – to potentially decrease voter confusion – the print costs double and the postage costs for absentee and early voting will substantially increase because an additional ballot will drive the weight of the mailing over that allowed for regular postage. And because Wisconsin is a state that pays for the mailing of the ballots both ways (to the voter and from the voter) the postage increase would be doubled. The current bill is silent on whether separate ballots would be required.

Lie: Trump Obviously Would Have Won Under Ranked Choice Voting

This argument, one of the most reprehensible and geared to the most gullible, is being perpetuated by so-called conservatives on the payroll for liberals financing Ranked Choice Voting (who were spurred into action by the very election of Trump).

The pretense goes like this: If all the “spoiler” votes from the Libertarian, pro-life and constitution parties in the 2016 election had defaulted to Trump, he would have beaten Biden by nearly 30,000 votes instead of losing by more than 20,000.

Certainly, some voters may have put Trump second place on their ballots. Just as certainly, many of those votes were the so-called Never-Trump votes of people who may otherwise have voted for a GOP candidate but could not bring themselves to support Trump. The idea that they’d have all ranked him as their number 2 guy flies in the face of the voter profile of a substantial chunk of those voters. Further, the Libertarian and Solidarity party candidates were on the ballot as Independents – so the idea that they only garnered GOP votes presumes those voters were Republican-minded and not independent-minded voters who might have defaulted to Biden as a second choice.

Even assuming every ballot had a second choice ranking for Biden or Trump (and none of the other third-party candidates), and none were thrown out, anything Trump would have had to convert more than 60% of all the second round ballots cast for all the third-party candidates to win. 

Lie: Ranked Choice Voting Produces Fair, Convincing Wins of Candidates With the Broadest Support

Nope.

For example, the spoiler effect is generally understood to mean a candidate who, if they had not been on the ballot, would have resulted in a different winner. The logic above in the false claim that Ranked Choice Voting would have delivered Wisconsin to Trump hands all the spoiler votes to Trump, suggesting that if they had not run, Trump would have benefitted from their votes.

This can happen in Ranked Choice Voting votes as well. In fact, by this definition, Sarah Palin, who received the second most first place rankings in the 2022 Alaska special election (eventually losing to the candidate who won the plurality and the RCV total), became the spoiler candidate because if Palin had not run, the candidate who was eliminated in the first round (Begich) because he had the fewest first-place rankings would have won the election.

If that’s not strange enough, consider these other nonsensical effects from the use of Ranked Choice Voting in this election:

If the ultimate winner (Peltola) had gained more support from 6000 Palin supporters (who would then have ranked Peltola higher than Palin) then Peltola would have lost the election. Getting more first-round support when she was already far ahead of the other two candidates, would have resulted in Palin, not Begich, being eliminated and Begich would have beat Peltola in their head-to-head. In other words, if the winner had done a better job convincing Palin voters to support her, she would have lost because more first-round support at the expense of her closest opponent equaled losing the election.

And that’s not all. If 6000 voters who placed Palin first, Begich second, and Peltola last had stayed home, Palin would have been eliminated, and Begich would have beaten Peltola. Voters who preferred Begich over Peltola would have had a better outcome for their higher-ranked candidate if they had stayed home.

And all of this in a race where the most moderate candidate, Begich, the only one who would have beaten either of the other candidates in a head-to-head, was eliminated in the first round, giving lie to the contention that Ranked Choice Voting helps centrist candidates.

And, the candidate who would have won in an old-fashioned voting structure (Peltola) also won in an RCV election still without a majority of votes cast (Peltola only got 48%). And though the outcome was the same – the same candidate won with less than a majority – but the RCV win reasonably produced more distrust, upset, and suspicion about the results.

Ranked Choice Voting can result in paradoxical scenarios where voters can help a preferred candidate win by not voting at all or cause a preferred candidate to lose by giving them a higher ranking.

Proponents will minimize these paradoxical impacts of Ranked Choice Voting, but there are multiple reported examples of where these have occurred and likely more instances that have not been discovered. Indeed a 2022 study that looked at six of the more common RCV methods found varying levels of disagreement in outcomes, dependent on the type of RCV used. (Calia et al., 2022)

When combined with the fact that Ranked Choice Voting winners may not earn a majority of the total votes cast, and some voters are disenfranchised while others have multiple votes counted – it’s hard to understand why RCV would be preferred.

Consider that in Australia where they’ve had a form of Ranked Choice Voting for decades (registered voters who do not vote are fined, and voters are compelled to rank all candidates), a candidate for senate from the then-newly formed Motoring Enthusiasts Party (platform: tougher vehicle impoundment laws) won election in 2013 after getting a record-low half-percent (0.51%) of first preference votes.

Lie: Ranked Choice Voting Increases Turnout

Wisconsin voter turnout, always among the highest in the nation, has set records in the recent past. Voters are not being deterred by each voter having only one vote. The contention that more people will vote under a new, more confusing, less transparent voting scheme giving weight to lower-ranked choices of some voters while tossing out ballots for voters who do not care to vote for a candidate they don’t know or don’t like is patently absurd even if it were being pedaled by true non-partisan interests.

And as already referenced (Buisseret & Prato, 2022) turnout can increase or decrease under IRV. 

Lie: Campaigns Will Be More Positive Under Ranked Choice Voting

A 2023 study of voter-perceived negativity in ranked choice voting in New York and California showed that 2/3 to 3/4 of voters found ranked choice races either equally negative or more negative. (Donovan & Tolbert, 2023)

Lessons

Wisconsin voters have had their confidence in our elections undermined. This has not happened because everyone doesn’t get 5 votes for each office, but because of real and perceived irregularities in the application of election law, the impact of outside money and personnel in administering local elections, and delays in tabulation and reporting of results.

Ranked Choice Voting does nothing to restore faith in any of those areas. On the contrary, it exacerbates some of them, and creates completely new reasons for voters to find the process and product of elections suspect.

For years on the conservative side, the mantra was that it should be ‘easier to vote and harder to cheat’ but the surging GOP support for RCV flies in the face of that.

RCV makes it easier to be disenfranchised and harder to tell if there’s cheating.

Wisconsin is a state that often has close elections, especially because we have so many independent-minded voters who swing between party candidates even within a given cycle. We have only to look at the 2022 outcome where statewide elections for U.S. Senate, Governor, Treasurer, Secretary of State were evenly split between the parties and the AG race swung to the Democrats by a slim margin. This outcome points to the ability – willingness – of Wisconsin voters to split tickets, to vote for the candidate and not the party, to take an independent approach to casting their vote.

Ranked Choice Voting: Hard to Verify

Close elections can result in recounts, where many sets of eyes are involved in recounts.

Ranked Choice Voting would end that. The complexity of vote calculation of statewide races makes it nearly impossible for humans to verify a recount even if the time required to do so would be reasonable. Instead, recounts would only be executed by machine. Since this is an area of distrust in our current voting system, having to trust completely to machines and their programming would exacerbate this problem.

And with good reason. A RCV election in Oakland, CA seated the wrong winner because the mechanism that was chosen to reallocate votes (reallocation is the main feature of RCV but it can be achieved in multiple ways) was not how the machines were programmed. This was only discovered after researchers who were independently studying the race revealed the problem. The real winner was seated months later.

How could this happen?

First, there are choices within any RCV structure of how to count ballots that have skipped rankings and overvotes. For example. If a voter ranks a 1st and 2nd place candidate skips 3rd and 4th and ranks someone 5th how should that be counted? Does the 5th place ranking mean they want that candidate last place and perhaps don’t know enough to rank the two unranked candidates?

If you are a voter in Alaska, every candidate ranked after 2 consecutive non-rankings is ignored. But in Alameda County, California, the non-ranked positions are ignored and the 5th place ranking is moved up to 3rd. So a voter who may be trying to indicate they most strongly oppose a candidate may end up having their ranking moved up and benefit that disliked candidate substantially.

Similarly, how overvotes are treated matters. If a voter gives two candidates the same ranking, the resulting overvote may be handled differently by election officials. They may ignore the double ranking and move up a lower-ranked candidate. Or they may toss out the ballot as soon as the double ranking is reached.

In the Oakland School Board race, the tabulation software was not calibrated to follow the rules set out by the jurisdiction, and the election administrators didn’t realize it.

And this is a final issue with Ranked Choice Voting. It can delay final election results for days, weeks, even months. For legislators who support beginning to count votes before election day to keep delays at a minimum, it’s astonishing to think they might implement a “reform” where the result might not be known until Thanksgiving.

With the volume of both money and lies flying, it’s clear the bill has a foothold that is likely to grow. Indeed, the bill was introduced just a couple of weeks ago and already has a hearing – a timeline that’s close to lightspeed in legislative terms, and an indication that the majority party has plans for it. That’s well worth worrying about if you value every person’s individual vote having equal weight.


References

Atkinson, N., Foley, E. B., & Ganz, S. (2023, April 5). Beyond the Spoiler Effect: Can Ranked Choice Voting Solve the Problem of Political Polarization? Social Science Research Network. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4411173

Buisseret, P., & Prato, C. (2022). Politics Transformed? How Ranked Choice Voting Shapes Electoral Strategies. https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/piep/files/rcv_20220325.pdf

Calia, B., Mcguire, G., & Sivek, J. (2022). Ranked Choice Voting Methods & the Frequency of Their Agreement. https://math.temple.edu/~tuf81636/SCT/Election_Simulation_Survey_V2.pdf

Donovan, T., & Tolbert, C. J. (2023). Civility in Ranked-Choice Voting Elections: Does Evidence Fit the Normative Narrative? Representation, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/00344893.2023.2219267

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