SHIELDS: Senator Cotton Is Wrong About Ranked Choice Voting

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Monday, September 5, 2022


Democratic candidate Mary Peltola’s victory in the Alaska special election is a troubling development that should cause introspection among all Republicans as our midterm prospects dwindle despite President Biden’s radicalism and incompetence.

Senator Tom Cotton is a conservative I greatly respect and support, but he erred in condemning not the flawed Republican candidates, but the ranked choice voting system that was used in the Alaska election. Cotton’s misguided views are, in my estimation, representative of a large portion of conservatives. Ranked choice voting is a reasonable voting method that ought to be embraced by all conservatives. Cotton’s arguments against RCV are untenable. 

Following Peltola’s victory, Cotton tweeted, “Ranked-choice voting is a scam to rig elections. 60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion–which disenfranchises voters–a Democrat ‘won.’” He then wrote an op-ed further pillorying RCV as a leftist “naked power grab” that “would rob you of your right to pick who represents you” and “threaten your right to vote.”

Cotton is correct that RCV cannot be conducted in a needlessly complicated way. It should be readily agreed that the jungle primary used in Alaska and being proposed in Cotton’s state of Arkansas is absurd and worthy of opposition. But this and other procedural and administrative flaws in RCV elections no more prove RCV to be inherently defective than the butterfly ballot proves the first-past-the-post method that Cotton supports to be defective.  

The argument that it is unacceptable for a Democrat to win when 60% of voters voted Republican would be quite powerful if there was only one Republican, but there were two. We Americans do not vote for parties; we vote for candidates who are members of parties. 

It can be most often presumed that those who rank one Republican first will rank the other Republican second, but this is no certainty as the Alaska election proved. Yes, 60% of Alaskans voted against Peltola in the first round, but 70% voted against Sarah Palin. There is nothing outrageous about the candidate who received 40% of first-round votes besting the candidate who received 30%. Indeed, if the election was conducted with the system hailed by Cotton, Peltola would have won with only 40%, for the spoiler candidate is one of the numerous flaws of first-past-the-post elections. 

There was an election where 60% of voters voted for more conservative candidates but the Democrat won: Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory. It is very likely that if RCV was used, George H. W. Bush would have prevailed over Clinton, but because Cotton’s preferred method was used, 60% of voters were made to submit to the will of 40%.  

Republican voters did not have this election stolen from them. Of the 53,810 who voted for Republican Nick Begich in the first-round, only 27,053 listed Palin as their second choice while 15,467 listed Peltola. Palin simply failed to persuade most voters. RCV cannot be blamed for that. 

Cotton also argues that RCV disenfranchises voters because in RCV, if a voter only ranks one candidate and the election proceeds to the second-round, then their vote is removed from the vote total in that round. There were 11,243 of these exhausted ballots in the Alaska election. 

Ballot exhaustion is not disenfranchisement. 

RCV can be thought of as many elections within a single election. Those who ranked only Begich were declaring with their ballot that in a three-way race, they desired to vote, but in an election between Peltola and Palin, they desired to abstain. Disenfranchisement would be if their vote did not count, but in this case there was no vote to count. Abstention is not disenfranchisement, whether regarding a person who filled out his ballot but declined to rank every candidate or a person who neglected to vote and therefore ranked no candidate. 

Senator Cotton and our fellow Republicans should cease this unwarranted opposition to ranked choice voting. Any electoral system that would have spared our republic of the monstrosity that is the Clinton family cannot be justly characterized as inherently hostile to the electoral prospects of the Republican Party. 

Instead of deprecating the voting method used, my fellow conservatives would be wise to engage in what is badly needed introspection to understand why nearly ¼ of those who voted for a Republican in the first-round were unwilling to vote for another Republican in the second-round, with over 15,000 voting for the Democrat. 

It is not the electoral system, but our pitiful choice in candidates—many of whom are not even conservative—that cost us the Alaska election and could cost us the midterms. How many more winnable elections will we give to the Left before we realize this? 

Jack Shields is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is currently attending Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He is an editor and columnist for Lone Conservative, and a reporter for The College Fix.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Jack Shields

Jack Shields is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is currently attending Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He is an editor and columnist for Lone Conservative, and a reporter for The College Fix.

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