January 25, 2022

Ranked-Choice Voting: A Conflict

What the well-intentioned proponents of ranked-choice voting overlook is that it conflicts with a much more urgent and critical need for manual auditing to counter the threats of hacking, rigging, and the perception that the 2020 election was stolen. The complexity of ranked-choice voting would add to the already formidable resistance to hand-counted audits. 

A wealth of resources has been directed at ranked-choice voting. “The head of Voter Choice Massachusetts, Mac D’Alessandro, told The Intercept that his organization is receiving more than $1 million in matching funds from Unite America” in 2019. Unite America is “a once obscure political organization that raised its profile earlier this year [2019] when Kathryn Murdoch became its co-chair and largest donor; she’s a daughter-in-law of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch.” https://theintercept.com/2019/10/07/murdoch-pennsylvania-gerrymandering-lobbyists/?fbclid=IwAR0qCfiNuMklRlawN5uKBAsEVsQhmZSEVXhiDfoFkG1f-tfGyNCVxJaKjJA

I’m not suggesting there is anything sinister in the injection of Murdoch money, apart from the fact that megadonors have way too much influence over our elections and everything else. I don't doubt that Kathryn Murdoch genuinely wanted to do good on the election front and wonder whether Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig helped convince her that ranked-choice voting is a top priority. 

I was a fan of Lessig for years; went to a couple of his New Hampshire rallies for campaign finance reform. He’s a brilliant man with an extraordinary passion for election reform. Not sure why he switched his focus from campaign finance reform to ranked-choice voting. Had he asked leading election integrity advocates, e.g., Verified Voting, for suggestions as to what is needed most, advocacy for mandatory manual audits would have come out ahead of ranked-choice voting. 

I’m not questioning anyone’s motives, but voters deserve to know all about the funding of ranked-choice voting campaigns.

I urge the advocates for RCV to read Jonathan Simon’s recent article, "The Real Steal: Electoral Forensics and the 2020 Election," as well as his book CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy: Election 2020 Edition. Everyone should watch KILL CHAIN: The Cyber War on American’s Elections, featuring Harri Hursti. I hope RCV proponents will read my plea for hand-counted audits and consider supporting that cause.

BTW, there are at least two other alternatives to the current system of plurality voting that are audit-friendly. Subsequent runoff elections to reach a majority of votes for the winning candidates are held in a number of states and European nations, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and France. And there’s Approval Voting https://www.electionscience.org/library/approval-voting/.

See also Brad Friedman: "Why Ranked Choice Voting Is a Terrible Idea" at https://bradblog.com/?p=12608: "it's very difficult to count, virtually impossible for the public to oversee, requires central tabulation and computers to pull off, and candidates and voters in many places where it's been tried in the past have found that it's impossible to understand why some candidates won and others lost."

Little-known fact about ranked-choice voting: The RCV component of state and federal races and state party primaries will always have to be tabulated by the Secretary of State or some other state authority on their RCV-programmed central scanner. In NH, that would hold for RCV municipal elections also until local jurisdictions purchase new, RCV-capable machines, as I understand it. Even then, how would the votes for, say, Nashua Aldermen-at-Large be tabulated? By the SoS? Or maybe the city clerk?

How do we audit the SoS's results? While auditing a sample of local precincts would be necessary, it wouldn’t be sufficient without also auditing the tabulation of the ranked choices by the SoS’s scanner. I’ve started watching the video on RCV auditing by the RCV Resource Center. Every legislator who has a vote on RCV should watch at least a portion of the video to see what the challenges are. They look daunting, to say the least, especially from the perspective of a voter who wants to see hand-counted audits.

RCV's Achilles’ heel is the requirement for *instant* runoffs, which necessitates central tabulation and computerization to reallocate losing candidates’ votes. Traditional runoffs, on the other hand, are tabulated just like any other election. Candidates with the lowest vote totals are simply eliminated after a round; their votes are not reallocated to surviving candidates. RCV advocates see its strength in exactly this capability to rank candidates. I do understand the appeal, but it comes at the unacceptable cost of local oversight, transparency, and auditability.

Barbara Glassman

Nashua, NH