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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

The right wants to kill RCV because it works

Welcome to SWOT Sunday!   Today is about how we need to neutralize the threat from our unfair rules of the game for elections.


Voting rights and labor unions have long been atop the right wing’s hit list.  According to investigative news site Documented, rather than filing frivolous lawsuits or launching quixotic bids to ban voting machines,  the latest effort involves long-time, sophisticated right wing players like the Heritage Foundation and Leonard Leo, who are “methodically directing MAGA activists and politicians to change the laws and policies governing our freedom to vote.”  


Banning Ranked Choice voting (RCV) is near the top of ALEC’s most recent priority list; they are working with Leo to get it done.   They are pushing legislation called the SAFE Act “Safeguard American Votes and Elections,”  which bans RCV. 


AZ is one of the states where they’re fighting an effort to put RCV on the ballot. According to a story in the Arizona Mirror, Chuck Coughlin, who heads the Phoenix political consulting firm HighGround and is supporting the RCV initiative, said that “the real reason far-right lawmakers are against [RCV] is because it threatens the  extreme partisanship that characterizes primary elections, which benefits their races.  They win in primaries, and they want to keep it that way.”  Combining RCV with non-partisan “jungle” primaries is a particularly potent tool against extremists getting elected.


Today I’ll give you an update on the situation, including how progressives are involved, and some ideas of how they could do more.


Current State of Play


Currently, jurisdictions across 24 states are using some form of RCV. Most of these jurisdictions are cities.  The types of elections using RCV vary, but may include state-run primaries and general elections, party-run primaries, special elections, and RCV ballots for military and overseas voters in federal runoff elections.  Even in the Deep South, some states use RCV, if only for military and overseas ballots.  2 states, 3 counties, and 45 cities use RCV for all their elections. 


Some states have provisions where cities can choose to opt in to RCV, and more are expected to do that in the near future. There are also dozens of cities who have approved RCV and are in the process of implementation.


Currently, six (6) states have banned the use of RCV.  This month, Kentucky’s legislature overrode their governor’s veto to become the sixth state to do it. KY is the first state to adopt such a law with a divided government. The other five states had Republican trifectas when they banned RCV.


RCV Bills and Ballot Measures In Process


So far this year, state legislators across the nation have introduced 69 bills that would expand ranked-choice voting (RCV) and 39 bills that would ban or prohibit it.  Some of these bans are in the form of constitutional amendments, which are hard to overturn once in place.


According to a recent Ballotpedia report, active legislation in 20 states would ban RCV, including bills in seven states (Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma) that have passed one chamber.  Republicans control the legislature in each of these seven states. 


The Missouri House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to make election and voting-related changes to the state constitution, including prohibiting RCV. If the State Senate passes the resolution, it will go on the Nov. 5 ballot.


There may be an initiative on the ballot to Repeal Top-Four Ranked-Choice Voting in Alaska; there is a pending lawsuit against it related to signature gathering, and potentially other issues. Alaska and Maine are the only states presently who use RCV for all their federal and statewide elections.


In Wisconsin, there are dueling pro- and anti-RCV measures being bandied about. 


 Progressives, Democrats, and RCV


The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) recently released national agenda supports RCV.  FairVote says “The CPC’s embrace of ranked choice voting represents a historic show of support in Congress.”


Six members of the Squad (Balint, Bowman, AOC, Omar, and Pressley) have expressed support for RCV, but the other members have not. 


Local campaigns for RCV have generally drawn some support from progressive organizations, but not as broadly as many non-electoral reform campaigns. 


Democrats generally are more supportive of RCV than they are of redistricting reform.  Certainly Democratic leadership in most cases doesn’t want to end gerrymandering.  One doesn’t get the sense that leadership is alarmed by the right wing attacks on RCV.


Broad-Based Support for RCV


One of the more hopeful developments in politics these days is the broad-based support for RCV.  Even the Cato Institute says the GOP “should not fear it.”  FairVote lists supporters including Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, and “thought leaders” including Mark Cuban, Bill McKibben, David Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, and Hasan Minhaj.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of broad support is the new President and CEO of FairVote, Meredith Sumpter.  She has a major corporate background including previous experience as  CEO & President of the Board of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, a global community of CEOs committing their organizations to actions that demonstrate value creation with sustainable and inclusive business practices.


What Can We Do?


Statewide progressive coalitions, in particular, should be sure to keep abreast of what is happening on the RCV front in their statehouses and get involved.  We don’t want to lose this great means of improving our elections without a fight.  “Red,” “blue” and “swing” states all fall on different sides of the issue.  We should really fight to keep RCV as a tool in potential swing states of the future, like Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.  I can attest that it’s fun to campaign for it, having been part of the campaign to get it passed in New York City. 

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