David Perdue and Round-Robin Voting

David Perdue is the self-proclaimed candidate of election subversion, publicly declaring that unlike Brian Kemp (and Brian Raffensperger) he would have attempted to thwart Joe Biden’s recount-confirmed victory in Georgia last year, if he (Perdue) had been governor then. Perdue has also made abundantly clear that he is running against Kemp in the gubernatorial midterm for one basic reason: so that he’s in a position to block certification of a Democratic candidate’s popular-vote victory in a 2024 race where Trump is attempting a comeback. As Trump said in endorsing Perdue, “He will not let you [meaning, of course, Trump himself] down!”

In the effort to protect against the risk of election subversion in 2024—election subversion defined as repudiating the result of an election according to the verified tally of ballots, based on nothing more than an evidence-free claim that the tally was tainted by fraud—it is important to consider ways that federal law might prevent Perdue from successfully perpetrating election subversion in 2024 even if he wins the governor’s race in 2022.  Bush v. Gore provides the most relevant precedent: it’s unconstitutional to manipulate the counting of ballots in a presidential election once a state legislature has chosen to use a popular vote as its method of appointing electors. Thus, Congress pursuant to its section 5 power to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment could legislate specific protections to enforce this federal constitutional right. Of course, Congress needs to be capable of overcoming a Senate filibuster blocking the exercise of this legislative power.

But while protection against election subversion calls for congressional legislation of that nature, it also requires consideration of electoral system reform that would test whether Perdue, or any other candidate devoting a campaign to a self-proclaimed commitment to election subversion, is really the choice of a majority of voters in the relevant electorate (in this case, the statewide electorate of Georgia). On this point, my recently published paper on “round robin voting” is relevant. If the round-robin voting system as described in that paper were in place for the Georgia gubernatorial election next year, all of Georgia’s voters would receive a Ranked Choice Voting ballot with Perdue, Kemp, and Stacey Abrams as declared candidates. The rankings that voters provide would be used to construct head-to-head “round robin style” matchups between pair of candidates: Perdue versus Kemp, Perdue versus Abrams, Kemp versus Abrams. The two candidates with the most round-robin victories based on these RCV ballots would then compete head-to-head in the November general election. 

Without actual Ranked Choice Voting ballots with which to calculate the round-robin results, we can only surmise what they might be.  But it is reasonable to think that Perdue would not prevail. Given that Abrams has defined her candidate in terms of democracy protection, most of the voters who prefer her as their top choice would like Perdue the least, with Kemp a reluctant second-choice vote ahead of Perdue. If Democrats are strong enough in Georgia, Abrams might be the clear round-robin winner, defeating both Perdue and Kemp head-to-head based on the Ranked Choice Voting rankings. If Republicans are strong enough, both Perdue and Kemp might defeat Abrams. But either way, Kemp will be the stronger candidate than Perdue, because most Abrams voters will prefer Kemp to Perdue, and in his head-to-head against Perdue, Kemp can add these preferences to those of the voters who like him the most of all three candidates (however many of those there may be). For example, suppose 45% of Georgia’s voters like Abrams best, and only 10% like Kemp best; if (for sake of simplicity) all of Abrams’s voters prefer Kemp to Perdue, then Kemp will defeat Perdue 55%-45% in their head-to-head. 

Contrast this round-robin system with conventional partisan primaries or even Alaska’s new system of a nonpartisan primary followed by a use of Ranked Choice Voting ballots that calculates a winner based on “Instant Runoff Voting” methodology, rather than the round-robin method.  First, in a conventional partisan primary system, Perdue may easily defeat Kemp, who has lost support of Trump and his base. Thus, the general election will be Perdue versus Abrams, even though a majority of all Georgia’s voters would reject Perdue in favor of Kemp head-to-head.  If Abrams can’t defeat Perdue head-to-head, then Perdue would end up winning the gubernatorial election—and being in position to commit election subversion on behalf of Trump in 2024—even though the entirety of Georgia’s electorate, based on direct comparison of the two candidates, have a preference for Kemp over Perdue.  This is how Trump can achieve control of government even without the genuine support of a majority of voters. 

The same point applies to the new Alaska system. If Kemp has the fewest first-choice votes on the Ranked Choice Voting ballots, then the “Instant Runoff Voting” process will eliminate Kemp, making the race revert to a head-to-head contest between Perdue and Abrams—just as in the conventional partisan primary system. Perdue may be able to defeat Abrams if he picks up enough second-choice votes from the voters who ranked Kemp first, and this outcome may occur even though Kemp would have defeated Perdue head-to-head. Only an electoral system based on which candidate wins the most head-to-head comparisons with every other candidate in the race, like the round-robin voting method of using ranked-choice ballots, can avoid the anti-majoritarian outcome that the candidate most preferred by a majority of all the electorate’s voters is eliminated in favor of a candidate who would be defeated head-to-head by that most-majoritarian candidate.

Thus, if the effort at democracy protection—and especially the avoidance of electoral subversion—is serious about preventing candidates like David Perdue from prevailing even when a majority of the whole electorate’s voters would prefer a different candidate, this democracy-protection effort should be looking closely at the idea of round-robin voting (or comparably majoritarian-maximizing electoral systems) and considering how procedurally to adopt this type of electoral system reform.

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