Conservatives like me have a lot to love about SB 524: the new election security office, ending “Facebook money,” raising fines, making egregious violations into felonies, strengthening address and ID requirements and cleaning up the rolls. The Governor and legislators who have championed the bill deserve praise for this new level of election integrity.
But one thing in the bill is not like the others: the ban on ranked choice voting (RCV).
Conservatives should let cities try RCV because it is consistent with the conservative principles of home rule and local control. RCV is not a left-wing reform but entirely neutral. Besides, RCV saves money and encourages civility. RCV also lets voters vote their conscience instead of gaming their vote, to reveal true voter preferences.
And from a practical perspective, most Florida citizens do not know what RCV is or why it matters. When they do understand it, they often like it. Removing it from the bill would not detract from the huge win for election reform. To the contrary, the win would be cleaner and easier to defend.
Regarding home rule: Federalism is vital to America, not least because 50 experiments can run simultaneously. Each state is unique, and one-size-fits-all rules often hurt more than help. The same U.S. founding principle holds between states and cities. Why not let cities experiment?
RCV is simple to learn. It basically combines a primary with a run-off. Voters choose their top two (or more) candidates, and if a voter’s top choice is eliminated as the worst-performing candidate, the voter’s next choice gets counted. Instead of costing money, time, and trouble for multiple elections, the instant run-off means a jurisdiction and its voters only have to go through the process once.
There is not enough space here to go through various scenarios, but the bottom line is that RCV is politically neutral. It does not favor or disfavor any party or identity group. It is a mistake to think of RCV as something to be associated with (or against) the left or right. Instead, RCV encourages civility because candidates seek voters’ second as well as first preferences.
In particular, Virginia Republicans used it to nominate consensus candidate and future Gov. Glenn Youngkin. And RCV cannot be blamed for left-wing Minneapolis remaining left-wing; as with other voting methods, the vote represents the population.
One thing, though, is different with RCV — and better: We are more likely to learn what voters really think. Voters often game their vote, avoiding a “spoiler” candidate who can’t win, since the voter may list only one preference. With RCV, in contrast, these voters can vote their conscience (another conservative principle) by listing their real first preference first and their backup candidate second.
I, for one, want to know how many people genuinely have a fringe candidate as their first preference, and I want to know how these fringe groups are growing and shrinking over time. RCV can tell me better than traditional voting because RCV reduces gaming the vote.
In my published report on RCV, I recommend that RCV should only be adopted in places with strong protections of election integrity. My home state of Florida is one of those places, and its protections are getting stronger. This means Florida is a good place to let cities try out RCV rather than the reverse.
Adam Kissel lived in Clearwater from 1986-1990, was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and is a senior fellow at the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.