Op-ed: Don’t be fooled by ranked-choice voting

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By Bruce Poliquin | The Washington Examiner | March 18, 2020

For 200 years, Maine voters elected our public officials using the constitutional one-person, one-vote process. The candidate who received the most votes on Election Day won — straightforward and simple.

This commonsense plurality method was tossed out the window in November 2018. After two years of misleading Mainers, liberal activists and millions of out-of-state dollars finally convinced a small minority of registered voters, only 15% of registered voters in a special election, to adopt the confusing ranked-choice voting method for the first time in federal elections for our state’s U.S. House and Senate seats.

Under ranked voting, citizens rank candidates in order of preference on one ballot. The first-choice votes are tallied, and, if a candidate receives a majority of the votes cast in this round, that candidate wins. If nobody receives a majority in the first round, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his or her votes are redistributed to the higher-performing candidates according to voters’ second choices. The process continues until more than 50% of the votes are assigned to one of the candidates.

In other words, citizens can cast multiple votes. Some are eventually counted, and some are not.

On Election Day 2018, I received 2,200 more votes than any of my three liberal opponents — one Democrat and two independents — in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race. The latter two campaigns had no staff and no funding. They publicly stated their primary reason for running was to harvest extra votes through the ranked-choice process for the other liberal candidate, the Democrat.

Because I didn’t receive more than 50% of the ballots cast on Election Day, nine chaotic days of ranked-vote tabulation ensued, similar to the Democratic caucuses in Iowa last month. Our rural U.S. House seat was eventually awarded to the Democratic candidate, who had finished in second place on Election Day. My campaign asked to inspect for accuracy the software program used to tally the rounds of ballots. We were refused because of the need to protect the “trade secret” of the vendor who sold the ballot-tabulating system to the Democratic secretary of state. An unusually large number of ballots, more than 8,000, were tossed out during counting due to “ballot exhaustion,” including cases where voters accidentally marked two candidates as their top choice.

The Maine Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, produced the most exhaustive analysis of our nation’s first and only use of ranked-choice voting for federal office. The study examined 96 ranked-voting elections mostly for municipal offices, more than half of them in California. The data show the method frequently eliminates more than 10% of the ballots cast on Election Day, many more than in traditional one-person, one-vote tabulations. That resulted in 61% of the ranked-vote winners receiving less than a true majority of 50% plus one of the total votes cast despite promises to the contrary from ranked-voting salespeople.

That’s exactly what happened in my congressional race. The Democrat who was awarded the seat never received as much as 50% of the total votes cast.

The FairVote activists who pushed ranked voting in Maine are now doing the same in 14 other states, and they surely won’t stop there. This is coming your way, and you should know in advance the deceptive promises they make.

In Maine, they promised three improvements to our time-tested one-person, one-vote system. First, they said big money would abandon political campaigns, including small, untraceable donations. This proved completely false. A staggering $24 million was spent in my U.S. House race. Roughly $3 million is spent in the average congressional contest.

Second, FairVote promised that campaigns would become more civil. That didn’t happen at all. Twenty-two nasty out-of-state special interests blanketed Maine with false accusations and smut. Swing-district races will always be loud, contentious, and expensive, and ranked-choice voting does absolutely nothing to change that.

Third, the liberal activists promised that the ranked-choice vote winner would receive more than 50% of voter support. As discussed above, that didn’t happen in my race. As often happens when ranked-choice voting is used, an unusually high number of ballots were thrown out in my race (more than 8,000).

The worst unfairness of ranked voting is how it confuses and discourages many seniors and others from casting ballots. After the 2018 election, a survey of GOP voters who decided not to go to the polls listed confusion over ranked voting (26%) as the main reason for not participating in the election.

Our sacred constitutional right to vote should be easy, fair, and invite participation, not suppress it.

Mainers are the only voters in the country who have lived through the ranked voting circus for federal office. Its inherent confusion discourages voter participation and ends the commonsense one-person, one-vote method used for more than two centuries in America. Beware if someone knocks on your door wanting to sell you the ranked-choice voting bill of goods.

Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019.

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