What Is 'Rank-Choice' Voting?
Shadowy group doesn't want you to know
An organization called “Better Elections” (which sounds a lot like “Better Together,” does it not?) wants to eliminate traditional voting in Missouri. The organization is gathering signatures in Missouri to put an initiative on the April or November ballot.
If the measure passes, voting will change radically—no more party primaries. There may not even be parties at all.
Instead, voters will rank all candidates in the race, from 1 to whatever, regardless of party. If there are ten candidates, you will have to pick a rank for each one. Or, pick your favorite, but that’s a bad choice.
Maybe you’ve heard of Avinash K. Dixit and Barry Nalebuff, two economics professors at Ivy League schools. Some years ago, the pair wrote a book called Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics, and Everyday Life. It's a fascinating book that makes game theory accessible to the masses. But it also advocates for eliminating both the left and right from politics, leaving only so-called “moderates” as winners. From the book:
Things become even more insidious when voting cycles are embedded in a larger problem. The will of the majority can leave everyone worse off.
Party insiders, big corporations, and billionaires have plenty of time and money to hire people to figure things out. They have time and money that you and I don’t. This fact gives billionaires a massive advantage over us commoners. They scheme stuff while we're at work, trying to put food on the table. Then, they tell us, “Hey, don’t worry, little man; I have everything all figured out. You will do it this way, see?”
Thinking Strategically: Elections
Dixit and Nalebuff devote an entire chapter of Thinking Strategically to elections and voting. And the pair make a strong push for “air-wise” voting, also known as the Condorcet method, after a French Freemason, Marquis de Condorcet, a heavyweight in the French Revolution. (Guillotine, anyone?)
The modern version of Condorcet’smethod, according to Better Elections, looks more like a. Borda’s count method and goes like this:
All candidates compete in an initial vote. Then, the four with the most votes for number one meet in a general election. They could all four be Republican, all four Democrat, or a combination thereof.
In the general election, voters rank their preferences one through four.
If the initial “tabulation” produces a candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote, that candidate wins.
If, however, no candidate receives 50 percent, things get hairy:
First, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.
Then, “the official conducting the tabulation” inspects each ballot cast for the eliminated candidate, determines the highest-ranked “active” candidate on each ballot, and reassigns the ballot to that candidate. (This is very complicated, so I’ll give an example below.)
That repeats until some candidate has a majority of the re-tabulated votes.
You can read the initiative here.
Example: Reagan, Mondale, Anderson, Jackson
The four candidates are Reagan, Mondale, Anderson, and Jackson. Reagan gets 40% in round one, Mondale 35%, Anderson 20%, and Jackson 5%.
Now, let’s look at the ballot of a lifelong Democrat from Missouri. She picked:
Her ballot now goes to Mondale, the highest-ranking active candidate.
Next, let’s look at Michigan's “throw the bums out voter.” He wants “new blood” in office. His ballot:
His second-round ballot is assigned to Anderson.
After round two, Reagan is at 46%, Mondale 38%, and Anderson 26%. Anderson is eliminated, and his votes to the highest-ranked candidate on each voter’s ballot.
Now, some reality. Most of the Anderson voters were Republicans or Republican-leaning Independents who hated Reagan for one reason or another. Call them “Never-Reaganers.” Their ballots looked like this:
Even though Mondale was a distant second in both of the first two rounds, most of AAnderson’sballots now go to Mondale. And we end up with:
Congratulations, President Mondale. Thanks to ranked-choice voting, you just defeated the most popular president since Roosevelt.
How Rank-Choice Voting Empowers Party Bosses
If you haven’t figured it out yet, let’s look at what happens when rank-choice meets the real world.
Party bosses want to control who gets on the ballot and who wins. TThat’sbecause party bosses want officeholders who “lay ball.” In other words, they want people in office who will cut backroom deals.
Do you know who won’t cut backroom deals? Idealogical candidates. Trump wouldn’t cut deals. Reagan was less willing to cut deals than George H.W. Bush. Goldwater didn’t cut deals. And the Republican insiders hated Goldwater, Reagan, and Trump. (Look up what Nelson Rockefeller said about Reagan and what Mitt RRomney’sdad George said about Goldwater.)
With rank-choice voting, populist candidates with 45 percent support within their own party will usually lose to a party favorite with only 30 percent support. For example, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton would have won in 2016 with rank-choice voting.
In Missouri in 2024, Jay Ashcroft is the favorite among Republican voters, but Mike Kehoe is the chosen candidate of the Missouri GOP insiders. Kehoe couldn’t beat Ashcroft in a primary with a triple-barrelled shotgun, so the GOP uses rank-choice voting to rig the election.
And that’s how it’s done, folks. The billionaires figure it all out while you’re at work and tell you how it’s going to be when you get home.
Does that sound like a democratic republic to you?
Dixit, Avinash K.; Barry J. Nalebuff. Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics, and Everyday Life (Norton Paperback). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Actually, what Better Elections is pushing is a blend of the Condorcet method and the competing Borda Count method, but Condorcet got the ball rolling in this field, so I’ll give him the blame.