A Bit of Ohio-Based Musing

With about three-quarters of the vote from the Republican primary for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat in (a little before 10pm ET), it looks like the top three vote-getters will be Vance, Mandel, and Dolan. If one adds to these three Ryan, the winner of the Democratic primary, those are the top 4 vote-getters from both primaries combined.

Therefore, it’s interesting to speculate what the general election in this race would have looked like if Ohio used Alaska’s new “top 4” system that picks the winner in November using a ranked-choice ballot. Dolan would be the first of the four knocked out using the “instant runoff” process commonly associated with ranked-choice voting, unless of course he could improve his position among these four in terms of the first-choice preferences of the November voters. But is also worth speculating what the result would be if “round-robin voting” rather than “instant runoff voting” were used to evaluate the ranked-choice ballots with these four candidates. Dolan might do much better in the one-on-one comparisons between each pair of candidates that the “round-robin voting” analysis applies to the ranked-choice ballots.

While we are at it, which Republican candidate would have won today’s primary if ranked-choice ballots had been used to pick the GOP nominee? And would the answer be the same whether the “instant runoff” or “round-robin” method were used just for these GOP ranked-choice ballots? The only thing that is clear, at least to me, is that Vance’s plurality win (at less than a third of the total, as it currently stands) wouldn’t necessarily translate into being the nominee if either form of ranked-choice voting had been used.

All this is to say that a state’s electoral method is highly significant to determining what happens in an election, even holding other factors constant (like the identity of the candidate, the amount of money they spend on their campaigns, the endorsements they receive, voter turnout, and so forth). I would venture to say that I don’t think the public or the media sufficiently appreciates just how significant this structural element of the electoral process is relative to other factors. More than the number of days that Ohio has for early voting, for example, how Ohio structures its primaries (partisan or nonpartisan), and whether Ohio uses a ranked-choice ballot or instead determines winners based on which candidate receives the plurality of votes using a regular ballot–these structural features of the electoral system will determine who ends up becoming the next Senator from the state.

This kind of speculation would benefit from being backed up by some empirical data. I’m hoping that by the end of this primary season, we will have some evidence that will enable us to make more informed judgments about the effects that different electoral systems would have on which candidates get elected.

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