Proponents of Ranked-choice Voting (RCV), claim several supposed advantages with the method. However, upon closer inspection, there are many problems and inaccurate claims associated with RCV. In 2021, 23 Utah cities chose to conduct elections via RCV. They did so, in many cases, to save money by avoiding a primary election. However, what did they lose? RCV treats some voters and some votes with more weight than others. Paradoxes and anomalies are rife. In short, it is a broken system that is unfair to voters. How can we say that? There has been an analysis of the RCV ballots conducted by Utah County in 2021. That full analysis can be found at public_release – Google Drive (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1TrSrg9ZXAUBFDrztnY3MJduaI8emZyKK)
Utah Election Integrity (UEI) was approached by one of the authors of the study, and we have started to verify the data associated with the study. So far, UEI has independently validated the Moab data. It is important to understand that the main author of the 2021 study and Utah Election Integrity are unpaid volunteers who are doing this on their own time, and without compensation. Our goal is to present the other side of the argument on RCV so that elected officials have all the information when making a decision for their constituents.
- Ballot confusion: While proponents have cited surveys of voters to indicate the RCV ballot is easy to navigate, the analysis of ballot confusion from the 2021 elections indicates otherwise. The most egregious example was in Goshen. In City Council Seat 1, 58% of the ballots were discarded out-of-hand or spoiled at a subsequent ranking. For Seat 2, that number sky-rocketed to nearly 75% of ballots. So while, people claim it was easy, 58-75% of ballots being spoiled would indicate the opposite. And while Goshen is an extreme case, the Utah County ballots showed 7 out of 17 races had a 10% or greater ballot confusion rate. In most elections, anything above 1% is considered problematic. And if one of the reasons for trying RCV is for the “majority” winner, it isn’t really a majority if 10% of your ballots were eliminated. (Figure 1)
- The Illusion of a Majority: Proponents claim that RCV guarantees a majority winner. However, oftentimes, it is only a majority of the final round, not of all the votes cast in the election. Sandy City is a prime example of this. The final round was decided by 21 votes, but 4027 ballots (18.9%) had become exhausted prior to that final round. The winner received 40.6% of the total ballots cast. UEI does not point this out to claim that a majority is necessary, but only that the claims of proponents are not completely accurate. UEI considers a plurality win more transparent than a final round majority obtained through redistribution of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice votes. Why should one voter’s first choice vote be cancelled by another voter’s 4th choice vote? Nationally, on average 11% of RCV ballots are exhausted before the final round. Whether voters choose to only rank a portion of candidates or rank all of them, the end result is that the winner gains the illusion of greater support than they actually have. (Figure 2)
- RCV requires centralized tallying to determine the winner. Due to the nature of the ranking and redistribution of votes, individual precinct results, or individual county results cannot be added together. While this may not present a problem in a municipal election that is being centrally tallied by the county, it would require a central statewide process for multi-county races or statewide race like Governor or US Senate. The reason we bring this up is because the proponents would like to expand this methodology throughout the state. As such, city officials need to understand that they are being used to promote a voting methodology that has wide-ranging considerations beyond just the municipality. So while, in the short-term, this may only impact your city, your actions may be used to justify an expansion that you may or may not support. Additionally, the major national proponent of RCV, FairVote, supports RCV and a National Popular Vote. A National Popular Vote and RCV would consolidate the tabulation of all presidential ballots to one centralized national location. Separation of Powers would be gone. (Figure 3)
- RCV does not always guarantee a “consensus” winner. In Moab, when you look at the rankings, comparing one candidate against another, the consensus candidate for Seat 1 did not win Seat 1. This is because the RCV process does not show us the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice rankings of those voters who ranked the top candidates first. In Moab, Luke W was the candidate most preferred by the voters, when compared with all the other candidates. However, he didn’t make the final round for Seat 1. (Figures 4,5)
- Nicer elections is a claim without basis. If you speak to many of the RCV candidates, you will find that civility is a function of individual character and not of an election process. Some RCV candidates in 2021 were treated very poorly. What is the evidence for this claim? National studies indicate that while you might be able to find the candidates claiming to be “nicer”, you will see 3rd parties stepping up to the plate to denigrate the opposition. In point of fact, it could be argued that since you are trying to appeal to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice voters, it incentivizes candidates to be less transparent with where they stand on divisive issues. Is it better to be “nice” or honest and transparent?
- RCV has several anomalies. In a traditional election, if you vote for someone, you help them win. RCV has a feature called non-monotonicity. This is a well-documented occurrence in election literature where ranking someone 1st may cause them to lose, or, conversely, ranking them last, can cause them to win. In Moab’s City Council Seat 1 race, the final round came down to a difference of 54 votes. However, if 3 people who ranked the winner (JT) as their last or second to last choice had ranked him as their first choice, he would have lost. This is counterintuitive to what everyone thinks should happen in an election. If you rank someone 1st, they should be more inclined to win, not less. Further, a race decide by a difference of 54 votes, would, traditionally, require 54 voters to have voted for the other candidate in order to change the outcome of the race. However, with RCV, it would only take 3 voters to change that outcome. (Figure 6)
- Some voters are more equal than others. In a multi-seat race, like some city council races in Utah, where voters select up to 3 candidates for 3 seats from the same slate of candidates, RCV has some voters where only their first choice is counted for all three seats. However, other voters have 3 or more choices counted for 3 seats. In Payson and Vineyard in 2019, this occurred for roughly 25% of voters. Voters in Lehi who ranked the 2nd place candidate, Michelle Miles, as their first choice, only got their vote for Michelle Miles to count for both seats. If they had chosen any other candidate as their first choice, they would have had votes for at least 2 different candidates counted toward the end result. (Figures 7-9)
In conclusion, there are many other problems with RCV elections, but these reasons should at least give voters and elected officials pause about this process. We highly recommend reading the full analysis linked above. Many of these items are mathematically complex. We would recommend keeping a traditional vote, as RCV is probably the most broken, the most counterintuitive, and the least fair of any of the election strategies out there. Both former California governor Jerry Brown and the Republican National Committee are opposed to RCV, in large part due to the complexity and mathematical inconsistencies. We need to ask why.
See below for the figures mentioned above.