Double-Check Instant Runoff Voting Could be First Step for Several States

For many reasons, Take Back Our Republic is a strong supporter of Instant Runoffs (also called Ranked Choice Voting). For states that currently have runoffs,  it can eliminate the need for voters to return to the polls almost two months later for a runoff to save money. For states without runoffs, it encourages more ideas, more civil campaigns, and more representative results because candidates know launching vicious attacks makes it hard to get to 50% + 1.

We truly believe it’s a nuanced idea that can yield a powerful impact.

But, some may look on the concept with trepidation. It does, after all, represent something new, and change can be difficult. 

In 2018, Jared Golden became the first member of Congress elected by Ranked Choice Voting when the people of Maine’s Second Congressional District selected him to represent them in Washington. Yet, it wasn’t that simple. In an election held in the mode of the other 434 districts, Golden would have been a narrow loser. He trailed incumbent Bruce Poliquin in first choice votes by roughly 2,000 before a tally began of the ranked choice votes.

While the people of Maine were largely pleased with the process that yielded Golden, many conservatives are now more concerned about the process. However, we believe that the absence of instant runoffs, more often than not, has aided the Left in an endeavor to take an otherwise more conservative seat. 

This can be done via Democrats who realize they cannot get 50% in a given race because most of the voters prefer Republicans, so they fund an extra pro-life or libertarian candidate to split the Republican vote.

For example, the 19th Middlesex District was one of the rare districts in Massachusetts where Donald Trump not only defeated Hillary Clinton but reached 51%. In fact, during the 2010 election when Democrats lost the US Senate seat, Scott Brown took 61% of the district. 

So, during the 2018 election, Democrats realized their candidate, David Allen Robertson, would be unlikely to get more than a point or two better than their Senate candidate Martha Coakley (47.1% statewide in 2010 against Scott Brown) or Hillary Clinton.

They then determined that only way to win was to recruit a pro-life candidate, Patricia Meuse, to divide the Republican vote and the 51% of the GOP vote was split between Pinzivalli (43%) and Meuse (8%) to let Robertson take the election despite having virtually the same percentage (48%) as Clinton and Coakley received in the district.

Even more often, the Democrat wins by taking votes away via a Libertarian candidate in a US Senate race. This is the only reason Harry Reid was elected in Nevada in 1998, and, with instant runoff in place instead of a Libertarian candidate taking votes from the Republican, the following outcomes in U.S. Senate races also would have likely been different in favor of Republicans: Washington (2000), South Dakota (2002), Montana (2006), Oregon (2008), Alaska (2008), Montana (2012), Virginia (2014), Nevada (2016), and New Hampshire (2016).

In all of the cases above, the Republican would have almost certainly been elected if voters were simply allowed to list their second choice in an instant runoff system

As you can see, we not only believe that instant runoffs are the right course of action for our democracy, we also believe it benefits a conservative agenda.

So, recognizing both the concern and the near-certain benefit, we have an intermediate solution for those who may want to “test” the system – the Double-Check instant runoff.

Double-check instant runoffs can allow for all the benefits of Ranked Choice Voting but simplify the system. In such a system, voters will only need to list a second choice, getting used to the new manner of making their selections, not a third, fourth, fifth and sixth choice in a process that might discourage voters and raise suspicion.

Let’s take the Pennsylvania vote for President in 2016, with the three options:

  1. No Runoff. The state does not use runoffs so Trump’s 48.2%, defeated Clinton’s 47.5%, Libertarian Gary Johnson’s 2.4%, Green Party Candidate Jill Stein’s 0.8%, Darrell Castle’s 0.3%.
  2. Traditional Runoff. All voters need to come back 7 weeks later to vote again with Clinton and Trump being their only options.
  3. Ranked Choice voting would require that voters list all these candidates in order, so most would need to decide if Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or Darrell Castle was their second choice, THEN who was their third choice, THEN who was their fourth choice. They system accomplishes a good goal by making someone get to 50% plus one, but the counting could hurt confidence because first you need to drop Castle and divide up his votes in a “2nd ballot” then drop Stein and divide her votes in the “3rd ballot” and finally drop Johnson and divide up his votes in a “fourth ballot.”
  4. Double-check. Under our proposal, voters all still vote for their top choice but they have the option of picking a second choice. Once we see the top two choices are Trump and Clinton, then all their votes still count but the votes of the Johnson and Castle voters who put Trump as their second choice go to him, and the Stein voters who picked Clinton as their second choice go to her, and Trump likely wins the state about 51% to 49% with a majority as opposed to 48.2% to 47.5%.

As of July 2019, ten states have runoffs in some or all of their nomination processes: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont – though Vermont only utilizes a runoff in the event of a tie. North Carolina and South Dakota do not require a majority but require 40 and 35 percent respectively.  

In general elections, Georgia and Louisiana require runoffs.

Should double-check instant runoffs be implemented, each of these states would have a possibility of avoiding the cost and divisiveness of runoffs.

Consider the case of Georgia in 2018. In the race for Secretary of State, Republican Brad Raffensperger edged Democrat John Barrow by 15,678 votes. Yet, because Libertarian Smythe Duval received 86,696 votes (2.2%), the race went to a runoff in December. 

In the runoff, which featured only the SoS race statewide, 2,409,690 fewer votes were cast, and Raffensperger won by 55,806. It’s highly unlikely that ranked choice voting would have yielded a different result, and it’s difficult to argue that imposing this low turnout runoff was beneficial to democracy. Double-check instant runoff voting could have allowed Georgia and its citizens to avoid the expense and difficulty of a second vote. However, it also would have preserved the option of a runoff if Barrow had won the initial balloting once ranked choice votes were tabulated.

Make no mistake about it. Take Back Our Republic recommends states transition to Instant Runoffs – whether they currently using the drawn out runoff system to get to 50% +1 or do not use a runoff system at all (which can allow one divisive candidate to win with 26% of the vote despite being the last choice of 74%). However, this intermediate step would allow citizens to get used to the system and explore how they feel about it.  If states were to avail themselves of this option, it would provide some interesting case studies for the rest of the nation to observe.

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Take Back Our Republic strive to be the leading organization in promoting a culture in politics where character and ideas are the basis of being elected and every election is financed with transparency, primarily by the people to be represented and not by outside interests. Headquartered in Auburn, AL since 2015, TBOR has strong financial backing, an engaged board, more than 100 volunteer coordinators in 47 states, and a staff who stands by our mission.


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