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The Nevada Independent

Ranked choice voting lowers voter turnout

Bob Zeidman
Bob Zeidman

In November, Nevadans will be asked to vote on ballot Question 3 that will significantly change the way our government representatives are selected. This new method, if approved, will be engraved into our state Constitution, making it the law of the land. It is obviously very important that we understand the ramifications before approving such a radical and near-permanent change.

I plan to address the arguments raised by those who support the change and show why they are at least questionable if not altogether wrong.

Also known as “instant runoff” voting, ranked choice voting requires that voters rank their preference for multiple candidates for election to each office. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-place votes, then the candidate with the least number of first-place votes is eliminated, and those who listed that candidate as their top preference will instead have their second-place votes distributed to candidates. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes, which could require multiple rounds of “instant runoff” tabulations.

Supporters of ranked choice voting claim that it will improve voter turnout, especially among “underrepresented minorities.” Research and experience show this to be wrong. In fact, just the opposite is true. One organization that is promoting ranked choice voting in Nevada with lots of outside dollars, FairVote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working for better elections for all, states, “Some research finds that ranked choice voting increases turnout while other research suggests it has little or no effect in local U.S. elections.”

This lukewarm argument does little to assure us that we are not approving something that could damage our elections. FairVote references five elections where ranked choice voting was used that had a small increase in voter turnout than previous elections.

This is not a way to determine the effectiveness of ranked choice voting because individual elections are not controlled research studies. There were many factors that must be taken into account including the economy, the political divisions within the country, even the weather and, of course, the particular candidates.

The 2020 presidential election had a record number of voters (155 million), much larger than the previous record in 2016 (138 million). This was a 12 percent increase, but obviously not a reflection of the voting method used. There were many factors in these two elections, and tying them to any particular one would be wrong.

Instead, Jason McDaniel of the Cato Foundation, and associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, did a rigorous study of ranked choice voting and found that it resulted in lower turnout. Specifically, his analysis of over 2,500 precincts across five San Francisco elections showed that turnout declined among African-American and white voters due to ranked choice voting. He also found that in odd election years, when there are typically fewer political offices on a ballot, ranked choice voting resulted in an 8 percent decrease in voter turnout, while in even election years, ranked choice voting had little or no effect on voter turnout.

Further, he and his colleague Francis Neely, associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, analyzed almost 2 million individual ballots and found that errors that disqualified ballots from being counted were significantly higher in ranked choice voting elections than regular elections.

This makes sense. Ranked choice voting is much more complex than normal voting. It requires every voter to consider each candidate in detail and then somehow rank them in order of preference.

Choosing one candidate for any office is difficult. Choosing five candidates will be at least five times more difficult. We all know many people who are too busy or too uninvolved in politics to vote in the first place. Many of us are on the border each Election Day. How many of us will simply shrug it off if the effort is five times harder?

For the sake of the future of Nevada, vote no on ballot Question 3 in November.

Bob Zeidman is the creator of the field of software forensics and the founder of several successful high-tech Silicon Valley firms. He has written textbooks on engineering and intellectual property as well as award-winning screenplays and novels. His latest book, “Election Hacks,” is the story of how he challenged his own beliefs about voting machine hacking in the 2020 presidential election and made international news and $5 million.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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