Monday, April 15, 2024

Small: No need to "fix" Oklahoma elections with "ranked choice" voting

No need to “fix” Oklahoma elections
By Jonathan Small

Oklahoma has one of the nation’s best election systems. We use paper ballots that allow hand recounts, our ballot machines are not Internet connected, and results are completely tallied on Election Day.

Yet some people want to get rid of that system and replace it with one notorious for voter errors, lengthy delays in counting, and growing public distrust of results – “ranked choice” voting.

In a ranked-choice voting system, voters designate their first choice in a race, their second choice, and so on down the ballot. If no candidate receives majority support, the second-choice votes of the candidate who finishes last are reallocated to the remaining candidates. If no candidate clears 50 percent of the vote at that time, the process repeats again and again until one candidate has received a majority.

This idea has been tried elsewhere and the results speak for themselves. The system is a disaster.

When Oklahoma lawmakers studied ranked-choice voting last September, state Sen. Mike Shower of Alaska, which recently implemented the process, warned of its many flaws.

In multi-candidate races, Shower warned a ranked-choice ballot “looks like an engineering chart” and may run for multiple pages. As a result, Shower said 11 percent of ballots in Alaska were spoiled because of voter confusion. The normal rate is 3 percent or less.

Exit polls from New York City showed black voters were 2.5 times less likely to rank candidates on their ballots, meaning they were more likely to be effectively disenfranchised by the process.

Shower also noted hand recounts are impossible with ranked-choice voting and all counting must be handled by computer programs. And the computers don’t always get it right.

Alameda County, California, used ranked-choice voting in its 2022 elections when a school board race in Oakland was on the ballot.

Weeks after a winner was declared and seated on the school board, county staff were contacted by independent researchers who had examined the county’s election data and found a series of mistakes.

Some voters did not rank anyone first but did rank one or more candidates in second place on down. The computers didn’t know what to do with those ballots, so those votes were simply ignored.

When the votes were retallied to include the discarded votes, it changed the election outcome. But it took months before the actual election winner was seated, and the error would have gone unnoticed under normal circumstances.

An election integrity task force created by Gov. Kevin Stitt has called on lawmakers to ban ranked-choice voting in Oklahoma, and House members have already approved legislation.

That’s the right call. Oklahoma’s election system is not broken—far from it. But if ranked-choice voting is ever implemented here, it will be.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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