Testimony: Stopping the Expansion of Ranked-Choice Voting
Testimony in Opposition to LD 1917, “RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Implement Ranked-choice Voting for Governor, State Senator and State Representative”
Senator Hickman, Representative Supica, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a free market think tank, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in opposition to LD 1917.
Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) is a fad and a costly failure, both in practice and in the abstract. Political scientists have studied it and found that greater ballot complexity drives “the negative effect of RCV…[which] increases as elections become less competitive, and that it increases with the number of candidates.” Research from San Francisco has also shown that “the adoption of RCV exacerbated disparities in voter turnout between those who are already likely to vote and those who are not, including younger voters and those with lower levels of education.”
Voters should understand that, under RCV, their votes may not count.
This is why Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called RCV “voter suppression” in a comment to The New York Post in 2021, adding that “Ranked choice voting is not beneficial to minorities.”
Think of it this way: less than one percent of mailed ballots are rejected in the average U.S. election, but a 2019 Maine Policy Institute analysis of nearly 100 RCV races found that, on average, “exhausted ballots” made up more than 10-times that amount. For those not familiar with the term, exhausted ballots occur when a voter does not rank one of the two final-round candidates, and their ballot is removed from the final tally.
A report by Princeton professor Nolan McCarty submitted to the U.S. District Court in Maine found that, in 15 of 98 races studied, more than 20 percent of ballots were exhausted. McCarty also found higher rates of exhausted ballots among electorates with more elderly and non-college-educated voters. In the 2018 Maine Gubernatorial Democratic primary, nearly 9,000 voters (7%) had their ballots removed by the final tally.
In other words, these voters cast legible ballots, but were ultimately excluded when determining the “majority winner.” How can a system be branded as more democratic when it relies on removing ballots from the final count to arrive at its false majority?
Often because of high rates of exhausted ballots, more than six-in-ten RCV winners do not earn a majority of votes cast. Some say this can be solved through voter education, but McCarty saw higher rates of exhausted ballots even among electorates with more experience with RCV elections.
Under RCV, not only must voters understand the issues and candidates on their ballots, but they must strategically plot their choices to maximize their effect on the outcome. By declining to rank every candidate or choosing to vote for less-widely popular third-party candidates, their votes are unwillingly diluted.
In this way, RCV has its own “spoiler effect,” similar to the way in which today’s third-party and independent voters must succumb when asked to choose between one of the two major party candidates to avoid “throwing away a vote.” It is certainly no better in this regard.
One thing is certain: RCV is inherently more complex and confusing to voters than the status quo, which is reflected in the level of exhausted ballots and disaffected voting blocs.
Voting systems should meet some basic criteria: casting a ballot is as easy as possible, and every voter can be assured that his or her vote will count equally toward the final result. Unfortunately, RCV fails these simple tests.
Please deem LD 1917 “Ought Not To Pass” and instead repeal ranked-choice voting entirely from Maine law. Thank you for your time and consideration.