Trump Could Have Blown Out Clinton with Ranked Choice Voting

Conservatives reading this Washington Post report on the first instant Ranked-Choice Vote (RVC) resulting in the Democrats picking up an extra Congressional seat in Maine may be surprised to hear a judge appointed by Trump provided the strong decision allowing the process. In upholding the law, the Trump appointee states:

“…there is no dispute that the RCV Act, the product of a citizens’ initiative, was motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable voters to express support for such candidates, without producing the spoiler effect. In this way, the RCV Act actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any given voter.”

Before dismissing Ranked-Choice Voting, conservatives should consider that Trump could have won as many as 36 states if it was in place nationally in 2016 – leaving Clinton only the following 14 states – Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Because RVC only impacts a race if no candidate gets 50%, the following are the state votes that would have been impacted by RVC and how much Trump’s margin would have improved in each:

State Trump margin Projected If Ranked Choice Change? Projected Trump Ranked Choice Clinton Ranked Choice
Arizona 4.1% 5.8% 52.9% 47.1%
Colorado -2.8% 0.1% Flip to Trump 50.03% 49.97%
Florida 1.3% 2.2% 51.1% 48.9%
Maine -2.7% -0.8% Almost Trump 49.6% 50.4%
Michigan 0.3% 1.8% 50.90% 49.10%
Minnesota -1.5% 1.2% Flip to Trump 50.59% 49.41%
Nevada -2.4% -0.4% Almost Trump 49.8% 50.2%
New Hampshire -0.4% 1.6% Flip to Trump 50.82% 49.18%
New Mexico -8.3% -3.0% 48.5% 51.5%
Pennsylvania 1.2% 2.3% 51.16% 48.84%
Utah 18.1% 34.3% 67.2% 32.8%
Virginia -4.9% -2.6% 48.68% 51.32%
Wisconsin 1.0% 2.5% 51.25% 48.75%

Certainly, in the Maine election, the process delivered the win for the Democrat because the liberal votes divided between three candidates could have let the Republican sneak through. However, typically it is Libertarian Party candidates who get the most third party votes and take them from the Republican.

As RepresentUS notes, “Under the old voting method, the incumbent congressman, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, would have won with 46.2% of the vote, while the remaining votes would have been “split” among his Democratic opponent Jared Golden and two independent candidates who received 8% of the votes. Under RCV, the second choices of those who voted for the independents were instantly applied to Poliquin and Golden, and Golden prevailed. The winner more accurately represents the preferences of the electorate.”

In my days as a Republican political consultant, my candidates went 16-5 in Virginia, Iowa, and Wisconsin nominating conventions, which are basically a ranked-choice system. You vote for your first choice, but if they are beaten by another candidate who receives less than half the vote, the last place candidate drops out and you vote again until one candidate gets more than 50 percent. We found we could run low-dollar campaigns because the big spending candidate who finished with a first place 35% by trashing all the choices of the 65% supporting another candidate would ultimately lose because they were noone’s second choice. The majority leaves happy after a ranked choice vote – at least stopping the candidate they like the least.

The system also encourages libertarians, Constitution Party and independent Republicans on the right, as well as Green Party and Progressives on the left to run to give voters greater choices without simply being spoilers, sometimes secretly backed by the other side just to take votes away from their Democratic or Republican opponent.

The fact that San Francisco is the biggest place to use Ranked Choice Voting also makes some conservatives suspicious, but I do not refuse to use an iPhone just because it was invented in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley – the most successful economy in the history of the world.

Let’s focus more on where the system was NOT used – starting with West Virginia where the incumbent Democrats were held to less than 50 percent with a write-in candidate who received almost 30 percent in the Republican primary and a Libertarian candidate draining votes from the Republican. It is likely the overwhelming number of those voters would have listed the Republican as their second choice in a ranked choice system to give the Republican a chance rather than awarding the seat to a Democratic incumbent that most of the state voted against.

Explaning model for the table above

As another example, I ran a model of Ranked Choice Voting on the 2016 Presidential election. For this model, I took the original votes and then assumed that in the instant RVC runoff the Green Party votes would break 70% to 10% for Clinton over Trump with 20% refusing to vote for either even on a second vote, and the Libertarian and Independent Republican voters doing the reverse for Trump who was much closer to their position. Keep in mind in the 37 states in which either Trump or Clinton received more than 50% they would win immediately and no 2nd ballots would be counted. However, as the table above shows – in the 13 states where neither candidate received 50% of the vote, the election shifts dramatically to Trump.

Trump projects to have won Colorado, Minnesota and New Hampshire in addition to all the states he won, and to pull within a point in both Nevada and Maine meaning its possible he would have won all five, while no state would have moved in Clinton’s direction on the second ballots in the RVC system.

Certainly, there will be some races where RCV lets a blue district end up with a Democrat despite several liberals running, just as national RCV might have given Trump a massive 336-195 Electoral College win in 2016. We whould not just an improved system on how it would impact one particular race, but on if it enables good candidates to run and stay focused on their voters rather than big outside money, and in that way RCV is a win for all except the big money political-industrial insiders.


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