Ohio Needs a Better Way to Draft Candidates
Recently, we’ve seen the best and worst of Ohioans moving onward and upward.
Starting with the best, 19 players from Ohio universities were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Buckeye State (or should we now say the “Bearcat State?”) trailed behind only Texas and far exceeded its proportion of the U.S. population.
On the other end, we witnessed a major flaw in the way candidates are selected to represent their parties in November. With all eyes on the election to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), JD Vance won the Republican primary even though nearly seven-in-ten GOP voters picked someone else.
Now, Vance may turn out to be the next Robert Taft and serve Ohio well for a generation. The issue here isn’t who won; it’s how he won.
Ohio uses a “first-past-the-post” system in its primary elections. In a crowded field, like we saw this year, winners don’t need a majority of votes to win—they just need more votes than any other candidate.
Typically, this isn’t a dramatic problem. Democrat Tim Ryan won his three-way primary with roughly 70 percent of the vote (despite a vote total similar to that of Vance). And in the last two senate primaries without an incumbent, Republican Jim Renacci and Democrat Ted Strickland won with 47 percent and 65 percent of the vote, respectively.
But this year, the field was particularly competitive and contentious on the Republican side. Candidates spent almost an entire year sniping at each other, calling each other names and dividing their party. And for what? One candidate to win with less than one-third of the total vote.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Just look at Virginia.
Under the spotlight in 2021, Virginia Republicans turned to ranked-choice voting (RCV) to select their candidates for the general election. The result? A clean-sweep of statewide winners.
RCV works by giving voters the power to rank candidates by order of preference. Once all ballots are received, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and their supporters’ votes are transferred to their next-favorite candidate. The election ends when one candidate earns majority support.
RCV isn’t about changing who wins, but rather how they win.
Looking deeper at Virginia, Glenn Youngkin led the primary election throughout the ballot-counting process. RCV didn’t directly change the outcome. But because RCV created an incentive to appeal to opponents’ supporters, many of the leading candidates, including Youngkin, asked voters to rank them second if they couldn’t rank them first. The kind of back-biting and divisive rhetoric that became so prominent in Ohio over the last few months may help earn the paltry support necessary to win under the current primary system, but it would hurt the ability for a candidate to win an RCV election.
Granted, ranked-choice voting wouldn’t take all of the vitriol out of politics. Politics ain’t beanbag, after all. But what it does do is encourage better behavior from candidates and ensure that the winner is appealing to the broader electorate.
Vance won with less than one-third of the vote. We’ll never know if a majority of Ohio Republicans are satisfied with that result. All we know for certain is that an overwhelming majority wanted someone else.
Much like the players moving up to the NFL, Vance may turn out to be a superstar or a bust. Only time will tell. But the process for moving on to the next election is markedly broken. RCV may be just the pick.