What the heck is Ranked Choice Voting?

Philip A. Janquart
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series regarding ranked choice voting. Watch for part II in next week’s issue of the Signal American.
 If you find ranked choice voting difficult to fully understand, don’t feel bad because you are not alone.
 It’s an electoral system Idaho Democrats are currently attempting to introduce in Idaho. In a predominately conservative state, it is throwing up “red” flags for most Republicans.
 Here’s the skinny:
 Initiated by the grassroots organization Reclaim Idaho and subsequently embraced by the Idaho Democratic Party, ranked choice voting, or RCV for short, is an electoral system that the blue party is currently attempting to introduce by way of a ballot initiative for the 2024 general election. 
 It is designed to replace Idaho’s closed primary elections with what Democrats are calling “open primaries” that any Idaho voter could participate in, regardless of political affiliation.
 The purpose of primary elections in Idaho is to allow members of a recognized political party to select that party’s nominees to go on the general election ballot and are commonly referred to as “party primaries.”
 A 2011 federal court decision in Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa (then Secretary of State Ben Ysursa) led to the passage of House Bill 351, implementing the closed primary system. It means individuals who are not members of a party are barred from participating in the selection of that party’s nominees.
 Supporters of the RCV initiative oppose the Idaho Republican Party’s closed primary election.
 If RCV were to be adopted, however, voters would be allowed to participate regardless of affiliation, with the top four vote-getters from the primary advancing to the general election. 
 The general election would be changed to create an instant runoff, or ranked choice system where voters rank candidates by preference, submitting ballots that list not only their first-choice candidate for a position, but also their second, third, and fourth.
 Volunteers across the state have been working since September to gather the 63,000 signatures required for the initiative to appear on the 2024 ballot. Reclaim Idaho has until May 1 to present its petition to the Secretary of State’s office for qualification.
 “We have gathered over 31,000 signatures already and that is phenomenal,” Washington County Democrat Chair Linda Strain told the Signal American. 
 “That’s a lot because normally we are probably less than half of that, for when we did the education initiative, and we qualified that, and met the Medicaid expansion, but we struggled to get all of them,” she said. “This time, there has been a lot of energy into this, and not just from the signature gatherers, but from the public.”
 How RCV works:
 In a hypothetical election, first-preference votes are tallied for four individual candidates. If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and the second-preference votes are lifted and redistributed to the remaining candidates.
 A new count is conducted to see whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority of first-preference votes. 
 “The benefit to voters is that everyone will be able to vote,” Strain explained. “The system, as it is now, unless you affiliate, you don’t get to vote.”
 She added that there are over 270,000 in Idaho who declare Independent, Libertarian, or other party that cannot vote. In September, former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, endorsed the initiative, stating that “the right to vote is one of the most precious rights that Americans have. Every registered voter should have the right to weigh in on choosing our leaders. Independents, including a lot of military veterans, have been excluded from having their say because of the closed GOP primary.”
 Opponents of the initiative, however, claim there are more complexities and components to RCV that unnecessarily complicate the voting process and will confuse voters, potentially leading some to improperly  fill out their ballot, “Because they don’t want to rank someone they don’t like.” 
 Under RCV, voters must rank all candidates – if they don’t, the ballot is disqualified. Some say the confusion could cause voters to not vote at all.
 Look for the rest of the story involving Idaho Republicans’ view of ranked choice voting in next week’s issue of the Signal American.


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