Republicans Could Benefit From Ranked-Choice Voting
The momentum among Republicans against ranked-choice voting (RCV) is hard to miss. A spate of bills in statehouses across the country aim to ban the measure, while the Republican National Committee passed a resolution in January opposing it. Even the hotel keys at the recent ALEC Annual Meeting were branded with “Stop RCV” language. It might come as a surprise, then, that Republicans may be the ones who stand to benefit from ranked-choice voting.
As Republican state lawmakers gathered in Orlando for the ALEC Annual Meeting, the R Street Institute hosted an event featuring two Republican former state lawmakers, Chris Saxman of Virginia and Scot Turner of Georgia, to discuss how instant-runoff elections using RCV can help the GOP find the best candidates and win more elections.
RCV asks voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. These rankings can then be used to conduct an instant-runoff election, where candidates are eliminated one-by-one until one candidate reaches a majority of support.
Chris Saxman, former Virginia state delegate, spoke first and pointed to the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race to show how RCV helped the GOP build momentum in a contentious primary election and flip the state for Republicans. According to Saxman, the use of RCV in the state party convention prevented candidates from considering independent bids for the office and splintering the party. Moreover, Saxman shared that RCV discouraged candidates from engaging in negative campaigning against their opponents out of fear of dropping down in voters’ rankings for going negative.
The result was not only the nomination of a widely liked and compelling gubernatorial candidate in Glenn Youngkin, but the party was able to quickly rally around the candidate and immediately focused their attention on defeating the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. Saxman argued that the party’s choice to use RCV in the primary contributed to the strong Republican enthusiasm heading into the general election and set the foundation for his success.
The event also featured former Georgia state representative Scot Turner, who highlighted how RCV can help Republicans in states with runoff elections. Currently, nearly a dozen states, concentrated in the South, use costly runoff elections if no candidate reaches majority support. To support his claim, Turner pointed to the 2020 Senate elections in Georgia, where Republican David Perdue came just short of a majority in the general election before losing in the runoff election. According to Turner, an instant runoff using RCV would have kept the seat red.
The math backs this up. Had Georgia used RCV, Perdue would have needed just 12 percent of Libertarian Shane Hazel’s voters to rank him above Democrat Jon Ossoff in November–a near certainty given the historic preference by Libertarian voters for Republicans over Democrats. Instead, Georgia voters returned to the polls in January, where depressed turnout among Republicans–who were upset with the results of the 2020 presidential election–ultimately cost the GOP two Senate seats and handed control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats.
Turner also pushed back against the concern from RCV opponents that ranking candidates is a difficult task for voters. Turner pointed to Utah, where many localities use RCV. Voters there have overwhelmingly found that ranking candidates was easy to do and a strong majority expressed a desire to keep voting using RCV. Turner also noted that Georgia’s sweeping election integrity legislation from 2021, Senate Bill 202, established RCV for military and overseas voters in order to ensure their participation in the event of a runoff. If this style of voting can be useful for our troops, Turner argued, Republicans shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.
All told, Saxman and Turner made the case that RCV can be a valuable tool for finding the best candidates, building momentum, and winning elections. This message was not lost on the attendees. Many expressed more openness to RCV after initial skepticism, particularly as a way to find the best candidates in primary elections.
While Republicans across the country have expressed wariness or even hostility to RCV, they should not be so quick to condemn it. RCV can be a valuable resource for the GOP. It can help elevate the most competitive general-election candidates and reduce the volatility of runoff elections. Just like the GOP’s recent embrace of early voting, Republicans should reconsider their position on RCV as another tool for winning elections.