In Philadelphia’s mayor’s race, there’s a theme being raised a lot lately that readers and listeners may have noticed — especially put forward by “progressive” candidates and special-interest groups. “Ranked choice voting.” This is a horrible idea.

It’s not democratic. It’s another attempt to undermine the concept of victory and “winners and losers.” It’s complicated — and, thus, another way to undermine faith in, and respect for, results.

It’s brought forward by people who are constantly looking to “fix” America, dislike tradition and customs, and love anything that invites complications in our electoral process. In short, they like uncertainty, chaos, and confusion. Stability, predictability, and transparency are their enemies.

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Everyone knows the person who wins Philadelphia’s Democrat mayoral primary will not win anything close to a majority. In fact, the winner may not even break 30 percent. This will lead to the often-argued truism: “You know, most Democrat/Republican voters didn’t even vote for X.”

Whatever you think of that; the answer is not ranked choice voting (“RCV”). RCV has many variations but, in general, voters cast votes for their “first” choice and “second” choice — and maybe even their “third and fourth.” If no candidate gets 50.1 percent on election night, vote tabulators and their computers start removing the candidates finishing at the bottom and thereafter second-choice, and then third-choice votes are added to top finishers until someone reaches 50.1 percent. 

Follow? In this era of conflict over voting-counting and lack of transparency, doesn’t this make it worse?

In this era of weakened political parties, single-issue driven candidates, candidacies built around personalities rather than platforms and no clear front-runners, we get large candidate fields. All too often, this leads to primary winners who do not get majorities.

However, the reality is that switching to “RCV” will only make things worse — even more people will run, garnering even less support. And “winners” will still not be supported by true majorities.

We should be looking to increase faith in election results, to improve transparency, and to encourage debate, accountability, leadership, and coalition-building.

So, here’s what we do with the current system — without adding confusion, undermining democracy, removing transparency, or shaking our faith in the results.

Option One: Leave it alone. Sooner or later, candidates and political parties will have to understand that candidates need to drop out, work together, and build coalitions. They’ll have to work to put their strongest candidates forward without undermining, destroying, and bankrupting the winner.

Option Two: Have party runoffs. The top two candidates run against each other 30 days after the primary. Again, this allows for transparency, debate, coalition-building — and actual voters voting for whom they want to win. These are behaviors and characteristics that we should want in campaigns and candidates.

We should be looking to increase faith in election results, to improve transparency, and to encourage debate, accountability, leadership, and coalition-building.

Ranked choice voting does the exact opposite. Let’s bury this idea before it makes things worse.

Guy Ciarrocchi writes for Broad+Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. He is also a Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. This column reflects his views and not necessarily those of any affiliated organization. Follow him @GuyCiarrocchi.

7 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Ranked choice voting encourages chaos and undermines democracy”

  1. I agree – ranked choice voting ensures that single-issue candidates will multiply and can become true power brokers – just look at the chaos that coalition governments go through on the international stage. Imagine a host of right wing single issue candidates register and get on the ballot in a Democrat primary and make similar right wingers their second or third choices – likewise if the reverse took place in a Republican primary. And don’t think that single issue candidates wouldn’t negotiate with each other – we see it all of the time in those same coalitions that I cite above.

  2. The problem is closed primaries. Independent voters, like myself, are undemocratically shut out of the primary voting process, where 90% of elections are decided (not the general election), even though our taxpayer dollars fund the primaries. What closed primaries lead to, when you shut out independents (read: moderates) is extremist candidates advancing to the general election that only have to appeal to their political base/party, instead of appealing to all voters (including independents). The only way out of this undemocratic mess and polarization/division is to have non-partisan (open) primaries in all states (and ideally, couple that with ranked-choice voting).

    Closed primaries are a form of voter suppression and a non-starter for those that don’t want to affiliate with either party, not to mention being able to vote in the primaries for any candidate across the full field of candidates, not just a candidate for one party.

    1. Forcing or allowing nonmembers to participate in a party’s candidate nominations destroys the meaning and definition of the party and its platform. Let’s find another solution to fix primaries. The special power and privilege that state governments have given parties to dictate ballot access for public elections must be revoked. Prohibitive ballot access hurdles for third party and independent candidates and sore loser laws need to be abolished. All candidates will have the same path to the general election ballot.

    2. I missed you point about using nonpartisan open primaries when I posted last comment.. That is mostly what I was suggesting as a solution, except I would prefer not Limiting to a small number of candidates for a whole campaign season.

  3. We must start with the knowledge that about 85% of all elections are decided in one primary or the other, and that roughly 1/10th or perhaps 1/8th of registered voters participate in a particular primary. The author seems not to account for this problem. As he proposes, if a top-two system is used in each party primary to avoid a spoiler scenario and to ensure the most-preferred party candidate is nominated, the most preferred candidate of all voters could still lose the primary. The only proper solution is to abolish the sore loser laws, which effectively abolishes the party primaries.

  4. In cities and counties with a Democrat majority, Ranked Choice Voting at least puts conservatives in the game~ Democrats can no longer elect all of the council. Seattle is a case in point where no conservative and no Republican has been elected for 30+ years. Under RCV if Conservative candidates get 30% of the votes, they win 30% of the council seats. Nothing undemocratic about that!

  5. Ranked choice voting chips away at the power of the two major parties. Ubiquitous corruption is our number one political problem. Far to frequently, the two candidates we are faced with in the general election are just cogs in the corrupt machinery of our failing two party system.

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