Idaho Should NOT Adopt the Ranked Choice Voting Method
Ranked choice is tailor made to elect establishment Republicans or Democrats instead of conservatives.
Voting techniques are contextual—they are all designed to make certain results more likely in a situation. There are no guarantees, of course, but the way elections laws are framed affect the chances. Reforms may seem neutral and we should argue about them on their merits, but they are always help one party faction or one party over another. They should never simply be evaluated in the abstract. They should always be evaluated in context.
When it comes to casting votes in general elections, Idaho conservatives should favor in person, paper ballots at stationary voting places and sufficient proof of identification and a straight up or down vote in head to head races.
One novelty is the jungle primary, which makes it more likely to select moderate Republicans (and it recently worked for Dan Newhouse in Washington, but not for Herrera Beutler). The jungle primary abolishes party control over candidate selection by allowing candidates of all parties to run in one primary and then the two highest vote getters run against each other in the general election. A moderate Republican would get moderate votes and most Democratic votes in the general election—and thus the tendency of the jungle primary is to help moderate Republican candidates in very red jurisdictions.
Even worse is the ranked choice voting recently on display in Alaska. Jim Jones, campaign treasurer for the Democrat candidate for AG in Idaho, just advocated for ranked choice voting. Ranked choice yielded a Democratic congressman from Alaska for the first time in more than fifty years. Lisa Murkowski's allies pushed Alaska’s ranked choice system in order to help her defeat Trump-endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka in this year’s election cycle. Alaska complied, passing ranked choice voting on as a ballot measure in 2020 by less than 4,000 votes.
Only two states use ranked-choice to select federal officeholders, Maine and now Alaska. Several localities across the country use it as well. Ranked choice voting asks voters to rank their preferences. If voters select one of the top two vote getters, then their vote goes to the candidate they choose. But if their vote goes to a candidate that does not make the top two, then those ballots are re-scanned for preferences among the two candidates remaining and then assigned to whichever candidate they rank more highly as a preference.
Alaska first had a jungle primary to decide which four candidates would make it to the special election for Congress (its long-time congressman had died). A Democrat, Mary Peltola and two Republicans advanced—one a establishment Nick Begich and one the conservative firebrand and one-time Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The fourth candidate withdrew after the jungle primary. Alaska had three candidates enter into the ranked choice special election on August 30.
Republican candidates received nearly 60% of the votes in the first round, but neither received a majority. Since Begich finished third in the first round, his votes were re-allocated to the candidates according to their preferences. Begich’s supporters favored Palin by a pretty large majority, but not enough to make up for the difference.
Palin did well among Begich voters, but not well enough.
Roughly 15,000 of his voters favored the Democrat and roughly 11,000 ballots were “exhausted” after his vote—which means that these voters selected Begich number one but no one for numbers two or three. These Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for a Democrat and could not bring themselves to vote for Sarah Palin.
Begich’s votes were reallocated, and the Democrat Mary Peltola, who barely received 40%
of the vote on the first round, won with more than 51% in round two. She will now represent Alaska in the United States House of Representatives until Alaska uses the ranked choice method again in November’s general election.
A similar result happened in Maine’s second congressional district in 2018, where the Republican had a lead after the First Round, but the down ballot preferences gave the Democrat the victory. Bruce Poliquin, the Republican, had a narrow lead after round one, The Democrat Jared Golden emerged victorious when the "independent" candidate's votes were re-allocated.
We will talk more about ranked choice voting in the future; however, for now the lesson is clear. Based on these experiences, ranked choice voting is a method used by establishment Republicans to prevent conservatives from winning. Sometimes, as in Alaska, the election shows that enough establishment Republicans favor the Democrat candidate to throw the election to the Democrat. Sometimes, as in Maine, it shows that many down-ballot fringe candidates favor Democrats.
Idaho conservatives should be woke to this threat, coming from establishment Republicans and say no to ranked choice voting if the question is ever posed.
* The first three charts regarding Alaska were snapped from the State of Alaska website.
* The Maine chart was snapped from Wikipedia.