New York City, welcome to ranked-choice voting. It turns out that in the first major election in which the Big Apple used ranked-choice voting, there are already problems. The city’s Board of Elections accidentally counted 135,000 test ballots in the Democratic mayoral primary, skewing the results. Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams, second from left, is joined by former New York State Assemblyman Keith Wright during a campaign event, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Wright endorsed Adams. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New York City is already seeing that ranked-choice voting is a mess

Tom Joyce July 01, 09:00 AM July 01, 09:00 AM

New York City, welcome to ranked-choice voting. It turns out that in the first major election in which the Big Apple used ranked-choice voting, there are already problems. The city’s Board of Elections accidentally counted 135,000 test ballots in the Democratic mayoral primary, skewing the results.

It’s not surprising, because ranked-choice voting is a confusing system and one with many problems beyond delayed election results and problems counting votes. The city should abandon the system as soon as possible.

While advocates say that it enhances democracy and forces candidates to appeal to a broad base of voters, it actually disenfranchises voters and feigns a consensus when none exists.

Because voters have the option to rank their preferred candidates, ranked-choice voting can make voting more complex. It results in more people’s votes not counting for a couple of reasons. It increases the number of invalid ballots in an election, and third-party votes can end up counting for less.

In 2009, for example, Minneapolis used ranked-choice voting in its city election, and 10.5% of votes cast were either spoiled or contained voter errors. When San Francisco used it in 2004, 8.9% of ballots cast were invalid.

And take the 2018 U.S. House race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District as an example. In total, 289,624 people cast valid ballots in that race, but the final outcome only included 281,371 votes. That’s 8,253 votes that did not count because of the new system, or about 2.85% of the votes cast. These are people who selected a third-party candidate or had the two third-party candidates ranked as one and two, respectively. Their ballots had no effect on the outcome of the election despite voting for the person they supported.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, got more first-place votes in the election than Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat. Poliquin got 46.33%, while Golden got 45.58%. Yet, Golden won the election. There wasn’t some broad consensus behind Golden, either. He got 142,440 of the votes counted among the total 289,624 ballots. That’s 49.2%, not a broad majority. Most people who voted didn’t vote for either major candidate at all.

It also creates a weird, uneven playing field in which someone’s second or third choice can count as much as someone else’s first choice in the final tally. Meanwhile, in a system that doesn’t cap the ranking at five candidates, there are scenarios where someone’s No. 10, No. 11, or No. 12 choice could hold as much weight as someone else’s first choice. Advocates may say that this somehow equals broad approval for a candidate, but these votes shouldn’t hold equal value because they’re not equally valuable.

Not to mention, we have an incredibly uninformed voting base in the United States. In a country where four out of five people don’t know who represents their district in the state legislature and more than 60% don’t know who their congressman is in the U.S. House of Representatives, should we expect an informed ranking from most people? How about when they can rank 10 candidates?

Thankfully, Massachusetts voted down ranked-choice voting last November. It would have been hilarious seeing people try to rank their preferred governor’s council, register of probate, or county commissioner candidates in the primary or general election — as if anyone in the commonwealth actually knows who represents their districts or what those positions do.

The problem with democracy in this country isn’t that we don’t have enough of it; it’s that people have no idea what they’re doing, and majorities keep voting for lousy politicians. Letting them rank people they know little about won’t make things better.

Tom Joyce (@TomJoyceSports) is a political reporter for the New Boston Post in Massachusetts. He is also a freelance writer who has been published in USA Today, the Boston Globe, Newsday, ESPN, the Detroit Free Press, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Federalist, and a number of other outlets.

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