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Some RCV Opponents Show Partisan Stripes

Apr 3, 2024

Although entrenched interests on both sides of the political spectrum oppose RCV, election-deniers present a rising challenge to ranked-choice reforms.

Map of California cities using RCV

After the success of RCV in Alaska and Maine, interest in the reform has grown around the country. Nevada and Oregon will have referendums on RCV this year, and dozens of cities are considering adopting it. Bills to implement RCV have bipartisan support in Georgia, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and dozens of cities are already using RCV in local elections. But the movement for RCV is running into headwinds around the country, with five states banning any city or county government from adopting RCV, and at least six other states considering similar measures (see RCV Around the Nation above).

The source of this opposition is not surprising: the same folks who have sown distrust in the 2020 presidential election are undermining RCV.  Groups with Orwellian names like Honest Elections Project (HEP) and Election Integrity Network (EIN) are at the forefront of the backlash.

HEP was founded by Leonard Leo, the largely unknown man behind the U.S. judiciary’s shift to the right. HEP Director Jason Snead authored “The Case Against Ranked-Choice Voting: How George Soros and Other Billionaires Use a ‘Dark Money’ Empire to Transform America.” In February, HEP testified against Wisconsin’s bipartisan RCV bill in committee hearings.

EIN was also busy in Wisconsin, distributing anti-RCV talking points to MAGA activists. EIN activists have played key roles in driving grassroots opposition to bipartisan pro-RCV measures in Virginia, Georgia, and Illinois.

Other right-wing organizations are also involved in the anti-RCV movement. The Heritage Foundation is holding grassroots events in Oklahoma, Georgia, and Arizona, and urging activists to pressure lawmakers to oppose RCV in Texas, Utah, and Georgia. Last year the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) put out a model bill banning RCV for state legislatures to copy. Turning Point Action got the Republican National Committee to adopt an anti-RCV resolution.

Why have these groups all decided to attack RCV? Publicly they will criticize RCV because it is favored by progressive donors, particularly George Soros. They also claim that the process is so confusing that voters are disenfranchised: “RCV makes it harder to vote, risks longer lines at the polls, and discourages participation,” HEP’s Snead told Rolling Stone. In fact, post-election polls show that voters overwhelmingly understand and like the system.

Privately, these right-wing leaders acknowledge that ranked choice voting threatens the MAGA political project. In June of 2023, Snead told Real America’s Voice network, “I think that their calculus is you change the dynamic of elections … make it harder for conservatives to get elected without that party primary and then of course you displace the parties themselves.” He clarified that he was referring to “outside and independent expenditure groups funded by folks like George Soros.”

Arizona Republican Party Chair Gina Swoboda told a party event in August 2023 that “the entire purpose of ranked choice voting is … force the candidates to run for the middle like they are in a general election, and then they will not take the positions that we need them to commit to.”

Alaska’s 2022 elections, the first since voters narrowly adopted RCV in 2020, confirm these fears. In the Senate race, moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was re-elected despite Trump’s attempt to punish her for supporting his impeachment after January 6. Murkowski prevailed over the Trump-backed challenger by winning the second-round votes of the 10% who voted Democratic in the first round. Alaskans also elected Democrat Mary Peltola in an August special election and again in November when she gained enough second-round votes from voters who supported moderate Republican Nick Begich, who finished third to defeat MAGA candidate Sarah Palin.

In 2022, 91% of Americans lived in heavily partisan districts, where the difference between the winner and losing party was more than 10%. Under this gerrymandered system, MAGA Republicans have only to win a plurality in the primary election before coasting through the general election. For example, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) won 36% percent of the vote in the 2016 primary and hasn’t faced a serious primary challenger since.  (The same phenomenon applies to the left end of the political spectrum.)

“It’s not really an issue of ‘honest elections’ or ‘election integrity,’” explains Rick Hasen, the Director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project at UCLA’s Law School. “It’s a debate about the best way to translate voters’ preferences into election winners…. the reason for the fear of ranked choice voting is that it could help elect more Republican moderates rather than more extreme Republicans.”

This article was adapted from this piece at Documented.

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