You may not have heard of Ranked Choice Voting or Instant Runoff Voting, but nearly a decade after their last run at it, Hawaii political insiders are trying to slip it by you again:
Hawaii Democrats will be using RCV in their Presidential Preference Poll April 4, 2020.
SB2006, passed the Hawaii State Senate Judiciary Committee February 4, 2020, with amendments. The bill “establishes ranked choice voting for special federal elections and special elections of vacant county council seats.”
Senator Brian Schatz February 4, 2020, tweeted, “Is there any solid reason to be against ranked choice voting? I’m honestly asking.”
OK. We’re honestly answering …
A False Majority: The Failed Experiment of Ranked-Choice Voting
VOTER CONFUSION AND INFORMATION DEFICITS
From Maine Heritage Policy Center, August, 2019 (excerpt)
… In a plurality election, the choice facing voters is simple: Of all the candidates running, whom do you prefer? Ranked-choice voting entails a much more complicated — and somewhat artificial — decision. To fully participate, voters must rank-order all of the candidates. In contrast to run-off elections, voters do not get the benefit of evaluating candidates as they face-off one-on-one. In Maine, voter confusion was so pervasive that proponents of ranked-choice voting felt the need to publish a 19-page instruction manual to help voters navigate the process.
This inherent feature of ranked-choice voting is problematic because it demands that voters have a large amount of information about candidates’ differing views. The fact is that most Maine voters, like most voters in any election, do not follow political races closely enough to meaningfully rank candidates in contests with more than three or four candidates. Yet, in order to avoid losing influence in a ranked-choice voting election, a voter must rank each and every candidate.
It is well-documented that American voters often lack basic information about candidates’ policy positions. A Pew Research Center survey conducted shortly before the 2016 presidential election revealed that a significant proportion of registered voters knew little or nothing about where the two major candidates stood on key issues. For instance, 48 percent of Hillary Clinton voters knew a lot about her positions, 32 percent knew some, and 18 percent knew not much or nothing. Knowledge about Donald Trump’s stances was even lower: 41 percent of Trump voters knew a lot about his positions, 27 percent knew some, and 30 percent knew little or nothing. In 2018, a poll found that 34 percent of registered Republican voters and 32.5 percent of registered Democratic voters said they did not even know the names of their party’s congressional candidates in their districts.
In other words, tens of millions of Americans enter the voting booth knowing virtually nothing about the policy stance of the candidates. It seems unlikely that they could confidently rank five, ten, or more candidates based on a sound assessment of their platforms. A 2014 study conducted in California provides additional reasons to be skeptical that ranked-choice voting functions in practice as its proponents predict. The study found voters are “largely ignorant about the ideological orientation of candidates, including moderates…” This information deficit is already a concern in plurality contests and is greatly magnified in ranked-choice voting elections when voters are asked to rank more than a single candidate.
Less knowledgeable voters are more likely to rank fewer candidates, potentially denying them influence over the election outcome. Giving knowledgeable voters more electoral influence may be defensible as a matter of political philosophy, but it is surely not the intent behind Maine’s adoption of ranked-choice voting. The 2018 Maine Democratic gubernatorial primary provides a good example of the practical challenges this poses to voters in ranking their preference in a large field of candidates. There were seven candidates on the ballot in this race and more than seven percent of the ballots were exhausted by the end of the fourth round of tabulation. Another example is the 2011 mayoral race in Portland, Maine, where ranked-choice voting was used and 15 candidates appeared on the ballot. In this race, voters had 15 choices and almost 18 percent of the votes were exhausted before a winner was determined.
When we examined the 96 ranked-choice voting races in our sample from across the nation, our analysis found an average of 10.92 percent of ballots cast are exhausted by the final round of tabulation….
When presented with a ranked-choice voting ballot, many voters do not rank every candidate, potentially due to insufficient information about the candidates or confusion about how ranked choice voting works. Exhausted ballots are a serious problem under ranked-choice voting, as they systematically reduce the electoral influence of certain voters. A study in 2014 reviewed more than 600,000 ballots in four municipal ranked-choice voting elections from around the country and found ballot exhaustion to be a persistent and significant feature of these elections. The rate of ballot exhaustion in that study was high in each election, ranging from 9.6 percent to 27.1 percent.
While exceedingly rare, ranked-choice voting races can create more exhausted ballots than ballots that are awarded to the winner of an election. For example, the 2010 election for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in District 10 resulted in 9,608 exhausted ballots whereas the prevailing candidate only received 4,321 votes. More striking, there were more than 1,300 more ballots that were exhausted than were awarded to a candidate at the end of the 20th round of tabulation.
Of particular significance for Maine, research has found that jurisdictions with higher proportions of older voters are more likely to report ballot-marking mistakes. Maine is the oldest state in the nation with a median age 44.6 years of age.
Similarly, in San Francisco’s 2004 ranked-choice voting election, a study conducted by FairVote, a proponent of ranked-choice voting, found that “the prevalence of ranking three candidates was lowest among African Americans, Latinos, voters with less education, and those whose first language was not English.” In the races examined in FairVote’s study, the ballots had three columns for voters to rank their candidates of choice. African Americans, Latinos, voters with less education, and those whose first language was not English disproportionately did not utilize their ballot to the fullest extent possible. More specifically, only 50 percent of African Americans and 53 percent of Latinos ranked three candidates whereas 62 percent of whites ranked a candidate in all three columns.
When individuals leave columns blank on their ballots and the candidate(s) they vote for are eliminated from contention, their ballot is not counted in the final tabulation. Therefore, if these voters only choose one candidate on their ballot, it is more likely to become exhausted, thereby giving those who fully complete their ballot more influence over the electoral process. In other words, African Americans, Latinos, voters with less education, and those whose first language is not English are more likely to be disenfranchised with a ranked-choice voting system.
Further, in his analysis of San Francisco elections between 1995 and 2001, Jason McDaniel, an associate professor at San Francisco State University, found that ranked-choice voting is likely to decrease voter turnout, primarily among African Americans and white voters. McDaniel also found that ranked-choice voting increases the disparity between “those who are already likely to vote and those who are not, including younger voters and those with lower levels of education.” In short, the complexity of a ranked-choice ballot makes it less likely that disadvantaged voices will be fully heard in the political and electoral process. …
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