[Fox News] Ranked choice voting and the love-hate relationship both Democrats and Republicans have with it

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Depending on who you ask, ranked choice voting can either reward extreme and wealthy candidates in elections or lead to a more publicly-palatable electoral process and encourage voter engagement.

The practice has grown in prevalence in recent elections – particularly in Alaska and Maine, plus Virginia, to some extent – entailing a hierarchical approach to election tallies. Several rounds of tabulation occur after voters are asked at the polls to choose their candidates in order of preference.

In the first round, totals for each candidate are tabulated, and the candidate with the fewest “first votes” is eliminated, and the “second votes” of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining candidates until a winner is decided.

A Republican former Alaska U.S. Senate candidate fell on the side of RCV critics, while a Republican former state lawmaker in Virginia credited it with leading to a political shakeup in his state. Democrats appeared similarly divided.

Democrats in Maine and New York have praised the system, while one Democratic governor appeared to throw up a potential roadblock in the way of his state’s implementation. He later stated that he would support the will of the people in a forthcoming ballot measure.

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Ballot measures implementing or banning RCV will appear in Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Missouri and Colorado. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Kentucky also have pre-emptively banned RCV.

Former Virginia State Del. Chris Saxman, a Staunton Republican who is now executive director at the free-enterprise non-profit Virginia Free, told Fox News Digital that RCV worked in the selective way it was implemented in his state.

During the 2021 gubernatorial sweeps, Virginia Republicans utilized RCV in their primary candidate selection process, which led to Glenn Youngkin winning the nomination.

Virginia Republicans voted to hold a convention rather than a primary that year.

After Youngkin was selected, Saxman told Fox News Digital, a consultant approached him at the convention to complain that supporters of perceptibly more conservative candidates had been stymied from attacking the nominee.

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“If it wasn’t for this damned ranked choice voting, we could have gone after Youngkin harder, but we couldn’t afford to alienate his voters,” the consultant complained, according to Saxman.

“I was like, ‘So, it’s a problem not to attack a fellow Republican?’,” he said, citing former President Reagan’s noted rule.

Saxman said that situation showed there is value in nuanced reforms to elections like the way the party utilized RCV.

“Complex systems reward small change,” he said, going on to claim that because of the surgical way Virginia Republicans implemented RCV, it led to a political earthquake that November.

Saxman noted the GOP had been out of power in Richmond since the Bush era, but now, suddenly, Youngkin, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares supplanted the Democratic establishment.

Saxman said national fundraising groups had largely dismissed Virginia’s governor’s race as a lost cause, but in part thanks to RCV, funding poured in after the Youngkin-Sears-Miyares ticket was announced.

Separately, in New York City, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio celebrated 2021’s contest as the “biggest ranked choice voting election in America,” while many of the competitive races fell during the Democratic primary.

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On the other side of the country, however, Alaska Republicans appeared ready to dispense with the recently-implemented system, which many blamed for the election of Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, in a solidly red state as a replacement for the late five-decade GOP mainstay Don Young.

Proponents of RCV in Alaska said in multiple reports that the new system worked in the 2022 race there, in that Peltola – a liberal – Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, – a moderate – and Gov. Mike Dunleavy – a conservative, all won races in the same election.

But Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican who ran for Murkowski’s seat in the nonpartisan primary that year, told Fox News Digital that Alaskans were fooled by proponents of RCV who claimed it would take dark money and extremism out of elections.

She noted how Peltola had prevailed after facing Republicans Nick Begich III – scion of a famous Alaskan political family – and former Gov. Sarah Palin.

Tshibaka said she fully supports the effort to get rid of RCV in the Last Frontier, as its repeal is poised to be a statewide ballot initiative in November pending a legal challenge to the measure.

She pointed to the failed candidacy of Al Gross, a Democrat-turned-Independent who, at times, led in the primary but dropped out. Tshibaka claimed that Gross had been forced from the ballot to make way for Peltola, who was to his left – and therefore claims that RCV quells extremism are unfounded.

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Gross said at the time it was “just too hard to run as a nonpartisan candidate in this race” and that the country was “broken.”

Tshibaka also argued that the system leads to a much smaller pool of voters ultimately electing a candidate as other votes are canceled out in tabulation rounds.

“So, it’s very deceptive on how they sell it to the public,” she said, adding that 2022 is largely seen as the most negative election in the state’s history despite RCV being sold to voters as a moderating force.

“We are baiting the water for negativity. You might have a one-off anecdote here or there. However, what we saw in Maine and Alaska … we’re seeing an increase in extreme negativity.”

Judy Eledge, a former schoolteacher in the Arctic oceanside community of Barrow – or Utqiagvik – who is active in Alaskan conservative circles, said the RCV system has shown to be very confusing to voters:

“You basically don’t get your first choice of who you want to win, and it enables people that otherwise would never win anything,” said Eledge. “It gives them enough to win and basically just destroys the party system within the state when it comes to elections.”

Eledge also claimed that it allows candidates who have substantial outside financial support a leg up, artificially influencing second and third choices.

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In Maine, the implementation of RCV paved the way for Democrat Jared Golden’s surprise 2018 upset over incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, marking the first large-scale test of RCV statewide.

Golden’s campaign told Fox News Digital that RCV is a “nonfactor” in his current race. “Like 2020, this will be a head-to-head race,” a spokesperson for the campaign said.

In response to criticisms, Peltola said that while RCV gets a lot of attention in Alaska, the true denominator is the open-primary system.

“We need more people willing to work with the other party, and Alaska’s system gives those candidates a chance. For instance, I wouldn’t have won a Democratic primary – I’m too conservative, and I talk about things that don’t just appeal to the Democratic base,” Peltola said.

“Open primaries and ranked-choice voting give a voice to the 64% of Alaskans that aren’t Democrats or Republicans.”

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