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Ranked choice voting shouldn’t be feared (opinion)


Submitted By William Mantle

It has come to my attention that there are attacks against Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Grab a seat and stay awhile. I am going to explain why I have been a long-time supporter of RCV and why you should be one too.

Arguments from a recent post against RCV:

  1. Constitutionally illegal because too complex.
  2. Potential for voter disenfranchisement.
  3. Uniformity standard.
  4. Accuracy of the vote count.
  5. Requires a Nevada constitutional amendment.
  6. Impact on minority parties.
  7. Legal precedent and interpretive challenges.
  8. Complexity in educating people on a new method of voting.

Before dismantling these arguments one by one, you need to know that Nevada has closed primaries. This means that nonpartisans (like me) and all other non-Democrats and non-Republicans cannot vote in partisan primary races, such as for president, governor, county commission, state legislature and so forth. Nonpartisans make up 33.46% of all voters in Nevada per the Nevada Secretary of State (March 2024), by far the largest voting bloc in Nevada. 

What could be more undemocratic than saying 33.46% (+ all other minority parties) have no right to vote on who will represent them in a general election? Or could these attacks on RCV be about maintaining power for the two big parties, Republicans and Democrats? Why would Republicans and Democrats want to keep at least 33.46% of all voters from voting? I cannot think of a noble reason. 

Constitutionally illegal because too complex

No. If it were too complex it would not be used in other states and countries, but it is. You can vote for only one candidate under RCV if you want to. That is the same as today! If you wanted to see your (one) vote, be potentially considered for another candidate you can choose to rank a secondary, tertiary and so on candidate. That secondary vote only comes into play if your first-choice candidate receives the least votes. 

It is exactly like if you enjoy three flavors of ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, and rocky road. You head into a (locally owned!) ice cream store and see that they are sold out of vanilla. What ever will you do? Well, you would likely go with your second choice, chocolate (if it’s not sold out) and enjoy your ice cream. I believe our voters can choose ice cream, and I believe they can also choose (or not choose) candidate(s) to vote for in a ranked list. Nevadans are not dumb.

Potential for voter disenfranchisement

This is a red herring. There is already rampant disenfranchisement by preventing at least 33.46% of our state from NOT voting in primaries. There is no additional opportunity for disenfranchisement. Currently, you vote for one candidate and they either succeed or fail. Under RCV if your primary candidate fails, you can still support a secondary candidate, meaning your vote does not just get lost with the original unsuccessful candidate! Your vote can go on to support your choice of representation more accurately. That, for all intents and purposes, is MORE enfranchising. 

Uniformity standard

Nevadans are not dumb. This argument is particularly difficult to follow. RCV requires a strict process of tabulation and counting. It is extremely standardized. How do you think all those articles of “Top 10 Best Hamburgers in Nevada! Tourist Attraction! Sunscreen!” get made? Someone ranks products and then tabulates the votes based on ranking. We teach this math to grade schoolers. 1 in the 1 column, 1 in the 2 column… so on. I have faith that we can do basic math across our whole state.

Accuracy of the vote count

Is RCV a new method of counting votes in Nevada? Yes. Is it new? No, it has been around for more than 100 years. The math is not new and the systems for counting are not new. While I admit that it does take a bit more time to tabulate because you must eventually tabulate secondary votes, I have never read a modern story of a “disaster” at the polls due to count mismatches. You still have one vote and it has a finite ability to be calculated. Again, the argument here is that people are stupid, which I do not agree with.

It requires a Nevada constitutional amendment

Well, yeah. The Constitution currently requires we vote in a non-RCV way because that is the way it was written. We cannot just ignore our constitutional laws and implement RCV, we must change the constitution to do something the constitution does not currently allow. Is anyone complaining that we changed the federal Constitution to allow women the right to vote? I am certainly not, but it is the same thing. Sometimes laws get old and outdated, such as the law in Eureka, Nevada that made it illegal for men with mustaches to kiss women. Sometimes we change laws because we have changed. It is not something to be afraid of.

Impact on minority parties

As I expressed, even though nonpartisans are a majority party in Nevada, they are legally treated as a minority party and are disenfranchised from voting. People will vote what their heart tells them to and what matters most is that our citizens have the right to vote.

This boils down to, “New thing is new so new things have new experiences.” Yes, RCV would be new. Yes, people will sue, block, interrupt, attack and defame the process. The good news is that we have history books! Cracking one of those open we can see that somehow, we went from a white male, property-owning, English-speaking, test-required, and poll tax-paid voting method to what we have today. Do not be afraid of change because it is new. Be afraid of never rising to new heights and accomplishments.

Complexity of educating people on a new method

Are Nevadans dumb? I do not think so. If you can name your top three restaurants in Reno you can figure out whether you want to vote for just one candidate or select a back-up (or more than one!). Have you ever driven to a restaurant and upon arrival discovered it closed? What did you do, starve? No, you went to another restaurant or sullenly returned home and made a sad PB&J like the rest of us. 

Ranked choice voting is not something to be feared. We NEED something that will allow everyone to vote in primaries. None of us should support disenfranchising voters. None of us should be afraid of positive change. 

You do not have to select more than one candidate if you do not want to. You never have to vote. But you should. You should vote and you should think about who is your second choice because who you want to win is not necessarily the one who will win, but with RCV you can at least have more of a say than you do today. 

William Mantle of Reno, Nevada.

William Mantle is a Reno resident of 16 years after being raised in the small mining town of Eureka, Nevada. He has his M.A. and B.A. in Criminal Justice from UNR, works at Washoe County’s Alternate Public Defenders office, and is passionate about policy, advocacy, and the environment. 

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