Ranked-choice voting makes elections unnecessarily complex and confusing
I’ve misplaced many things in my life. My car keys. A hat. Sunglasses. My wallet. One thing I never lost, though, was 13,000 ballots. Imagine my surprise on Monday as I learned that the state of Maine had indeed done just that.
More than 13,000 ballots were missed in the original count released by the Secretary of State’s office, due to a number of factors. As votes were tabulated last month, there was a mistake made by a worker who was uploading a file of ballot images that caused those ballots to not be counted in the system, and there was a faulty memory device that produced an error preventing it from uploading all of its ballot images.
So while it is true that the ballots were not “lost” in the sense that they disappeared — the ballots were indeed secure — they were most certainly lost in the eyes of the computer system that tabulated the results, and were thus not originally counted.
Let’s be clear, the secretary of state’s office did nothing wrong here in my opinion. In fact, they did what they were supposed to do, and were checking over the results and ensuring that the numbers added up, and ended up catching an error, publicly disclosing it, and then corrected it. From my vantage point, they deserve no grief that may be potentially coming their way as a result of this rather embarrassing problem.
The villain in this story is not the secretary of state, the worker who made the uploading error, or any individual person. The real source of this problem is the ranked-choice voting system itself.
The specific process of collecting and tabulating is an innovation made necessary by the ranked-choice voting system. Such a tabulation system would not be something used in a traditional election. It introduces many more steps, and more complexity than would be expected otherwise.
More complexity means more chances for failure, and more confusion — and that is just on the ballot counting side. That complexity is even worse on the actual voting side.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting have long claimed that the system is easy to figure out for voters. You just rank by preference, what could possibly be confusing about that?
It isn’t — to me. But in the very real world, it is clear from years of results all across the country just how confused many people remain about it.
Let’s take the issue of overvoting, for instance. An overvote occurs when a voter fills in more than one bubble in a round, rather than making a single choice. In a traditional election, there is one opportunity for a voter to make that mistake. In ranked-choice voting, there many more such chances.
According to the initial, non-revised tallies from July, there were 187 overvotes in the first round of the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary. Curiously, though, there were also 40 overvotes in the second round.
In order to have made it into the second round, a ballot would have had to have not been cancelled in the first round, and would need to be tabulated in the second. Thus, the ballots being looked at in the second round would have to be people that voted correctly for Eric Brakey in round one.
Therefore, 40 people who voted for Eric Brakey and only Eric Brakey in the first round, ended up voting for two people (or more) in the second round. One can only speculate, but I think it is rather obvious that they probably voted for Brakey and another candidate in the second round.
Perhaps they wanted to make sure they kept voting for Brakey if he was still in it, but also filled out another bubble to vote for someone else in the event he wasn’t in it, thinking that if they didn’t they wouldn’t vote for him if he was still in it.
This is wrong and will get your ballot cancelled, but you can sort of see the logic of that thought process. Someone who did that is not an idiot. Just because you understand ranked-choice voting perfectly doesn’t mean everyone else does. Forty people who may have wished to register a second choice, but didn’t understand how to do so correctly, now became partially disenfranchised voters.
This is one of many areas of confusion that voters grapple with that you likely are unaware of, and it says nothing of the issues related to counting the ballots, and how certain decisions — like round skipping — are interpreted by tabulators.
In the end, this system creates far more problems than it supposedly solves, and in the process essentially disenfranchises countless Mainers. It must be repealed.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.