Explaining the mechanics of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is reminiscent of Lilliputian government in “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift. Gulliver observes that the process of selecting ministers consists of “five or six of those candidates petition[ing] the emperor to entertain his majesty and the court with a dance on the rope; and whoever jumps the highest, without falling, succeeds.” While Swift imagined this fictitious practice as a means to satirize British politics of his time, RCV is a real threat to the democratic value of one person, one vote.
RCV is an unnecessarily complicated system compared to what we have now. It has gained traction in American cities to ease our “election woes.” The scheme, also known as instant runoff voting, is where a voter ranks the candidates running for a particular seat as their first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. After voters commit to the ranking of any number of candidates, the count begins. Once the count is concluded, the candidate who has received a majority of the first-preference vote wins. If no candidate wins a majority, then the candidate with the least number of first-preference votes is eliminated from the race and the affected ballots have their second-preference votes elevated to first-preference. The votes are counted again, and if necessary, the process is repeated until a candidate does receive a majority of first preference votes.
Ranked choice voting has the potential to create confusion, and will result in more disenfranchisement than our current system. Having ballots that do not include two ultimate finalists can lead to a candidate who would not have otherwise won a majority of overall votes to win because the results of several rounds of calculating ranks led them to win in the final round. Contributing to the confusion is that most Texans do not have the time or the inclination to follow politics closely enough to have a potential ranking of candidates. Could you imagine asking the average Texan to rank their preferential order of candidates for Railroad Commissioner? A study done in 2015 that reviewed 600,000 votes cast using ranked choice voting in four local elections in Washington State and California found that the winner of all four elections received less than a majority of the votes
Due to the number of candidates on the ballots that utilize the RCV system, voters could easily suffer from ballot exhaustion. This can happen because the voter does not know enough about the candidates to fill out the ballot completely or they are simply tired of having to rank three to five choices for every seat.
Proponents of RCV often say that it is more efficient than the traditional method of voting. The argument is based on the claim that if there is a run-off, then voters will have to come back to their polling places to cast their ballots again. However, in New York, key primary elections have suffered delays since 2021. In one of these elections, which used RCV, none of the primary candidates in the race for city council are even close to having a majority of votes, with the lead candidate receiving only 39% of votes.
In an unsettling development, cities in Texas have begun to flirt with this idea. In 2021, Austin voters considered Proposition E, which would have instituted an RCV-like system. The Texas Secretary of State rightly informed the city of Austin that the practice was banned based on the rationale of a 2001 opinion made by Henry Cuellar when he was Secretary of State and a 2003 legal opinion made by Greg Abbott when he served as Attorney General. However, because it was only an opinion and there is no statute prohibiting a political subdivision from implementing RCV, the ban relies solely on commonsense and voluntary compliance with the Attorney General’s ruling.
Ranked Choice Voting allows for manipulation instead of creating a space for every ballot to matter. This method of election could create circumstances where the candidates who received fewer votes on the initial ballot than other candidates win in subsequent rounds.
Progressives are so tired of losing that they are willing to change the rules to disenfranchise their opposition. In Texas, we need to continue to respect the one person, one vote rule that has served as the basis of our democratic society for generations.