Category Archives: alternative voting systems

Pildes on Ranked Choice Voting

Fredreka Schouten of CNN interviews Rick Pildes. Here’s a highlight:

RCV … encourages the election of candidates with the broadest electoral appeal. It also makes it likely that candidates who win will have the support of a majority of voters. A factional candidate might get 30% of the vote, but if that candidate doesn’t attract wider support, they won’t succeed in an RCV system. The system encourages candidates to reach out to voters who might not prefer that candidate as their first choice, but whom the candidate still wants to persuade to rank them second or third. In that way, it also encourages less hostile forms of campaigning. I do not want to brutally tear down an opposing candidate, because I want their supporters still to think well enough of me to rank me second or third.

RCV also reduces the risk of spoiler candidates and so does not force voters into artificial choices. Suppose a moderate and a progressive (or staunch conservative) are running. I might prefer the progressive, but worry about whether that candidate is electable, and I have to decide whether to vote my sincere preference or vote for the more electable candidate. But with RCV, I can rank the progressive first and if they do not have enough votes, my vote will transfer to the moderate candidate….

There has definitely been an upsurge in adoptions of RCV even in the last few years. I think that’s a reflection of frustrations with how polarized our politics and choices have become. Whether it continues to spread elsewhere will probably be a function of how it’s perceived to go in high-profile races and places, such as in Alaska or Maine.

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The Conservative Case for Proportional Representation

In the wake of New York’s redistricting decision this week, Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen urges Congress to reach a bipartisan agreement to end gerrymandering and offers three ways to do that. All three deserve attention, and I suspect that for something to pass Congress it would need to embrace a federalism-based approach by which states could choose from a menu of options (like Olsen’s three anti-gerrymandering alternatives) to achieve a congressionally-determined objective.

But here I want to highlight the third of Olsen’s three proposals: invoking Switzerland as “model” for how to “elect House members by proportional representation.” I can’t recall a comparably prominent conservative voice promoting so forcefully the idea of using PR in the US. Am I forgetting something similar?

As Olsen indicates, Congress could jump-start state-based experimentation with PR for congressional seats simply by repealing its statutory (not constitutionally required) single-member district requirement. Given Senator Mitch McConnnell’s aversion to imposing new congressional mandates on states even for the conduct of congressional elections, pursuit of proportional representation could be advanced by doing the opposite: removing a congressional constraint that already exists. McConnell ought to be in favor of giving states the option of using PR for their congressional delegation, if that’s what states prefer. I can imagine Ohio, after its current redistricting debacle, becoming the first state to explore this way to avoid being a national embarrassment again.

Thus, is there a deal to be had among congressional Republicans and Democrats to repeal the single-seat district requirement and give states the freedom to experiment with PR? I would expect a deal like this might be more attractive to Democrats when they consider what the Supreme Court might decide in the pending Alabama redistricting case. If the Court adopts the argument advanced by Alabama in its recently filed merits brief, it’s not going to be constitutionally permissible for Congress to enact a revised Voting Rights Act that would enable single-member districts to be drawn to enhance the relative voting power for racial minority groups (comparable to what minority voting power would exist in districts drawn without consideration of race). The only constitutionally permissible way to pursue proportional political power for minority voters would be through a race-neutral across-the-board system of proportional representation, in which minority voters would be able to elect candidates and parties of their choice in proportion to their numbers in the state’s whole electorate.

Repealing the single-member district requirement would require some measure to prevent a state, whether Alabama or any other, from simply electing all its congressional seats in at-large first-past-the-post statewide elections, which obviously would not be proportional representation and would cause severe minority vote dilution. But a new Act of Congress that permitted states to abandon single-member districts if they adopted a Swiss-style, or some other, form of statewide proportional representation for their congressional delegation? That might be the best way to protect minority voting power, as well as avoiding gerrymandering, given the current Supreme Court and the need for bipartisan compromise for anything to pass Congress.

In light of Olsen’s column, is pursuing this kind of bipartisan deal worth further exploration?

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Will there be a “spoiler” in 2024?

Andrew Yang is the guest on the new must-listen episode of Sarah Longwell’s Focus Group podcast. They discuss the possibility of a significant third-party, or independent, candidate in the 2024 presidential race. Yang, who’s started his own Forward Party, essentially promises one–especially if the two major-party candidates are Biden and Trump again, although he doesn’t say he’ll necessarily be the candidate. He offers Mark Cuban as the example of a candidate who he thinks could compete effectively against both Biden and Trump.

Sarah Longwell expresses the concern that any third candidate would pull more votes from the Democratic nominee than from Trump, assuming that Trump is the GOP nominee. Fearing for the future of US democracy itself if Trump wins a second term, Longwell worries that any third candidacy (however well-intentioned) could end up devastating for the country by being the cause of Trump’s return to power. For what it’s worth, I share Longwell’s concern for the reasons she expresses.

Yang and Longwell also discuss the possibility of ranked-choice voting as a way to avoid the potential spoiler effect. Yang says he’s not willing to wait for ranked-choice voting to be in place in order for there to be a third-party candidate. While he’d prefer ranked-choice voting to come first, from his perspective disrupting the major-party duopoly (as he puts it) is necessary, even at the risk of creating a spoiler effect in 2024. At least, that’s how I heard him express his position on the podcast.

In any event, it’s time to dust off copies of Presidential Elections and Majority Rule, which discusses the importance of adopting ranked-choice voting on a state-by-state basis (like Maine and Alaska) as the method of appointing presidential electors, in order to guarantee that winner-take-all electoral votes are awarded to majority winners, thereby avoiding the potential “spoiler” effect of third-party or independent candidates.

Do we really want to be in the position where whether Trump wins or loses in 2024 depends on the idiosyncratic decision of an individual billionaire, like Mark Cuban, to enter the election as an alternative to both Trump and the Democratic nominee?

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“Survey finds most Americans favor ranked-choice voting”

The Fulcrum:

More than 60 percent of Americans favor using an alternative method of casting ballots known as ranked-choice voting for federal elections, according to polling data released Wednesday morning.

RCV, also known as an instant runoff election, has already been used statewide in Maine, for municipal elections in New York City and in more than 40 other jurisdictions. Alaska will use ranked-choice voting for the first-time this summer in a special election for a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

While there is a partisan divide over RCV, with 73 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents in favor of its use, virtually half (49 percent) of Republicans also support ranked elections, according to the poll, which was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation and Voice of the People.

When conducting the survey, pollsters described ranked-choice voting and then presented arguments for and against. After taking respondents’ temperature on each of the arguments, they asked a final approve/oppose question, and 61 percent said they approve of RCV for federal elections with more than two candidates.

More about the survey results and methodology here.

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The “primary” link between two seemingly different stories

Earlier this morning I blogged about the institutional structure that caused McCarthy and McConnell to cave in response to pressure from their Trump-supporting GOP base. Superficially, one might think that yesterday’s news about the federal court’s decision regarding Ohio’s redistricting mess might be unrelated. But I see a structural connection between the two, and it’s why the “primary problem” (involving partisan primary elections determining who’s on the plurality-winner general election ballot) is indeed the primary problem (meaning, number-one reform priority) threatening U.S. democracy right now.

Last night, I tweeted a thread why I’m dubious about yesterday’s federal court order as a matter of Article III jurisdiction to enforce applicable Fourteenth Amendment requirements, and the corresponding entitlement of the Ohio Supreme Court (insofar as its own jurisdiction permits) to enforce state constitutional law with respect to a primary election for a non-federal office (seats in the state legislature). I won’t repeat the points in that tweet thread here. Instead, I want to highlight the more significant point (in my judgment) that Ohio’s redistricting mess wouldn’t exist if Ohio used Alaska’s new electoral system, or some variation of it, to elect its statewide officers, like Governor or Secretary of State.

As an Ohioan, I’ve followed the careers of Governor Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. They are not Trump-type Republicans. Recall DeWine’s initial response to Covid, or how LaRose handled his role in administering elections pre-2020. But theirs are two of the key votes in the state’s redistricting process that has caused the mess the state is in. Why, I ask myself, would these two non-Trump Republicans be so recalcitrant in refusing to obey the Ohio Supreme Court’s repeated orders to draw a map in compliance with the state’s constitution (as interpreted by a majority of that court, including Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor)? The only answer I can think of: the threat of being “primaried” from the Trumpian right. Both DeWine and LaRose are up for reelection, and they face Trumpian challenges in the May 3 GOP primary. While they are both likely to survive, they both face the institutional pressure from the existing electoral system to cater to the Trumpian base of the GOP. No point enraging the base, or the members of the state legislature’s GOP caucus (which is even more beholden to the base because of previous gerrymandering combined with the electoral system of primary elections followed by a plurality-winner general election). Thus, in being so recalcitrant on redistricting, DeWine and LaRose act in a way forced upon them by the institutional pressure they face but is contrary to what otherwise they’d be inclined to do.

Sound familiar? It’s the same dynamic at work in this morning’s story about McCarthy and McConnell needing to back off of their initial instinct regarding Trump after the January 6 insurrection. And it’s the same institutional culprit at work: partisan primaries followed by a plurality-winner general election. If Ohio had Alaska’s new system right now, DeWine and LaRose would be running for reelection in an entirely different institutional environment. I think there’s strong reason to believe their behavior in the redistricting process would be entirely different as well.

Gerrymandering is bad. We need to curtail it. But Ohio’s experience shows that to redress gerrymandering, like so much else that currently ails the U.S. electoral system right now, reform needs to reach the root of the problem. We need to tackle the pathological behavior of politicians in leadership positions (McCarthy, McConnell, DeWine, LaRose, and many others in D.C. and nationwide), behavior that is contrary to their own best instincts but caused by the “primary problem” itself.

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McCarthy & McConnell: The Relevance of Institutions

This morning’s blockbuster N.Y. Times story by Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin, based on their forthcoming book, raises the question whether Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell would have felt able to act on their immediate instincts after January 6–to end Trump’s political career–if the electoral institutions in which they (and party competition) operated were different. Simply put, if Alaska’s new system were nationwide, what would have been the different electoral incentives that GOP members of Congress operated in, including their relationship to their “base” voters? (See especially the quote from Ohio’s Bill Johnson in the story, that the “base” would “go ballistic” if GOP leadership crossed Trump.) What would be the electoral power of these “base” voters in an Alaska-style system, compared to the electoral power of the base in the current system (in which a plurality-winner general election follows a traditional partisan primary)?

In considering how to react to this news that McCarthy and McConnell backed off their initial instincts, it’s worth keeping in mind the institutional context in which they were operating. Thus, if the goal is to protect the United States from a dangerous politician like Trump, which McCarthy and McConnell initially wanted to do (according to this story), then the lesson here is that there needs to be the kind of structural institutional reform that enables political leaders like McCarthy and McConnell to act on those instincts, rather than to succumb to the countervailing forces of “base” pressure (which results from the existing institutional arrangement).

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An Electoral Game-Changer?

Election Law at Ohio State is pleased to host a webinar An Electoral Game-Changer?: What if Ohio (and other states) used Alaska’s new Ranked Choice Voting system? (You can click on the webinar’s title for full information and a link.) As readers of my ELB posts know, I believe that this topic is hugely important as we observe the electoral process unfold this year nationwide, and thus I’m delighted my Ohio State colleagues have organized this event. I’m looking forward to learning from it, and I hope other ELB readers will as well.

Key details: it’s scheduled for Wednesday, April 27, 12 – 1 p.m. (ET). Moderated by Ohio State’s Steven Huefner, panelists are:

James Brooks, Alaska-based reporter, Anchorage Daily News
Julie Carr Smyth, Ohio-based journalist, Associated Press
Lisa Manheim, Charles I. Stone Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law
Michael Parsons, Senior Legal Fellow, FairVote, and Program Affiliate Scholar at NYU School of Law
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“How does a movie win a best picture Oscar? There’s a method to the voting madness”

One last post as I wrap up regular blogging this week, from the Los Angeles Times:

Also called instant-runoff voting and ranked-choice voting, the preferential ballot is an electoral system used in places around the world — including in New York City — for elections with more than two candidates. Each voter ranks his or her choices, rather than choosing only one to be the winner.

The thinking behind the system is to ensure that each ballot will have maximum influence, putting a premium on the choices that voters rank near the top.

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“Alaska’s first ranked-choice election will be a special vote to replace Rep. Don Young”

Anchorage Daily News:

The new election system approved by Alaska voters in 2020 will get an unexpected first test this summer with a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Congressman Don Young, Alaska’s sole member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Alaskans will pick a temporary replacement for Young using a top-four special primary election and a special ranked-choice general election. The prospect is adding a historic extra dimension to what was already expected to be a major year in Alaska politics.

And the ADN has a related piece, “After Young’s death, Alaska’s political world braces for a sea change and an elections marathon.”

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Judge Sutton’s new book

This essay focus on the election law implications of the new book by Jeffrey Sutton, Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit. Bottom line: given all the challenges confronting the operation of the electoral process in the United States currently, now is the time for especially creative use of states as laboratories of democracy. While some of what’s being done to combat gerrymandering fits this description, there is much more experimentation with democratic procedures (all of which would be consistent with the basic federal constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process) that could occur. (Derek’s post from a few days ago is along the same lines.)

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“Can Alaska Save Democracy?”

I’ve written this new Washington Post column. A snippet:

“[T]he key point is that something like Alaska’s [new electoral system] can liberate America from the threat of Trump and his recruits dismantling democracy. If they no longer can control which Republicans get on the November ballot, so that all voters and not just partisans who show up for primaries get a chance to weigh in, then Republicans can feel free to counter Trump’s authoritarian tendencies.”

I’d add here that, because the current electoral system is responsible for the particular political parties we have, and because we are all collectively responsible for the choice to keep our current electoral system rather than changing it, we therefore are all responsible (at least in part) for how each of the political parties conducts itself within the existing electoral system. In other words, to be blunt: if we are aghast at how the Republican Party is behaving (as we should be), we should realize our role in maintaining the electoral system that enables the Republican Party to act as it does.

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Barney Frank, Liz Cheney, Rob Portman & Democracy

Barney Frank, the long-time member of Congress from Massachusetts whose memoirs every student of politics should read (or better yet listen to, since Frank narrates the audiobook), has written an ingenious op-ed for The Washington Post on Liz Cheney’s battle to win reelection to her House seat despite the GOP’s all-out effort to replace her with a Trump loyalist.

Frank’s two-part proposal is that, first, Cheney pull out of the Republican primary, which she’s likely to lose, and run as an independent, and second, that Democrats refrain from running their own candidate, so that the November general election can be a one-on-one match between Cheney and the Trump loyalist.

Continue reading Barney Frank, Liz Cheney, Rob Portman & Democracy
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