Sunday, March 12, 2023

Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries, Updated (March 2023)

One electoral reform that FHQ has touched on in the past and has increasingly popped up on the presidential primary radar is ranked choice voting (RCV). And let us be clear, while the idea has worked its way into state-level legislation and state party delegate selection plans, widespread adoption of the practice is not yet at hand. 

However, there has been some RCV experimentation on a modest scale in the delegate allocation process primarily in small states. And that has opened the door to its consideration in a broader swath of states across the country. States, whether state parties or state legislators, are seeing some value in allowing for a redistribution of votes based on a voter's preferences to insure, in the case of presidential primaries, that every voter has a more direct say in the resulting delegate allocation. 

That is apparent in legislation that has been proposed in state legislatures across the country as they have begun convening their 2023 sessions. Again, RCV is not sweeping the nation, as the map below of current legislation to institute the method in the presidential nomination process will attest. There are a lot of unshaded states. But if RCV was adopted across those states where it has been passed (Maine), where it has been used in Democratic state party-run processes (Alaska, Kansas and North Dakota), and where it is being considered by legislators in 2023 then it would affect the allocation of nearly a third of Democratic delegates and a little more than a quarter of Republican delegates. That is not nothing. 

Since the last update in late January, an additional 11 bills have been introduced in seven states -- Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont -- to establish RCV in at least presidential primaries. Only one bill to create RCV among all of those introduced has even passed a chamber, and that was one of the handful of bills in Hawaii. It passed with an effective date in the year 3000. That is not a typo. It was purposefully set for well into the future to spur further conversation about the measure in the state Senate.

The 2023 session remains young, but there has not been a lot of legislative momentum behind the efforts establish RCV. 

However, there has been some negative momentum. Several pro-RCV bills ended up bottled up in committee and are either dead or effectively so. That includes the four bills in Virginia and the two considered in New Hampshire. In addition, legislation to ban RCV has found limited but greater success than the measures that have sought to create RCV systems. The South Dakota bill to prohibit RCV winded its way through the legislature and is on the governor's desk for consideration. Other ban bills have been passed by their chamber of origination in Idaho and Montana and another measure to stop RCV usage has been introduced in West Virginia. 

The legislative efforts nationwide continue to have a partisan tint to them. Legislation to create the infrastructure to implement RCV is more likely to be introduced in Democratic-controlled states and if not in blue states, then by Democratic legislators. Introduced measures to ban RCV have been exclusively introduced in Republican-controlled states and by Republican legislators. 

A few notes on bills included and excluded from consideration:

1. The intent was to highlight legislation that would affect presidential primaries. That includes bills that would exclusively cover presidential primaries and those that would impact all or most primaries, including presidential primaries. 

2. FHQ was probably a bit more inclusive than necessary. A handful of the bills listed above while currently active, would not take effect until after 2024. The New York and Oregon legislation is that way. The 2022 New Jersey RCV bill that carried over to the second session in 2023 would not take effect until the January 1 twelve months following the point at which the secretary of state in the Garden state had determined all voting machines were operable for RCV. New Jersey and New York together account for a significant chunk of delegates on the Democratic side and none of those would be impacted by this legislation in 2024. [The newly added Oregon bill falls into this category as well.]

3. Some bills were not included. There is an RCV ban bill in North Dakota as well. But there is no state-run presidential primary in the Peace Garden state. That is true of the efforts in Alaska to repeal RCV there. If the state-run RCV process were to end, the Democratic Party could still utilize the practice in a state-run presidential nominating contest. Similarly, ban legislation that sought to prohibit RCV only in local elections -- as in Minnesota -- were also excluded. Finally, if RCV was tethered to a broader push to move to a nonpartisan primary like in New Mexico, then that was also left out. It should also be noted that Nevada was left unshaded on the map above. The state Democratic Party used RCV in the early voting portion of the caucuses in 2020, but not across the entire process.

4. Hawaii technically fits two categories on the map. Democrats in the Aloha state used RCV in their party-run primary in 2020, but have legislation that combines a switch to RCV and the use of a state-run presidential primary as well as separate legislation to establish a presidential primary and move to RCV in all elections (including any presidential primary that may be created). 

Kansas and Maine also fall into two categories. Kansas Democrats used RCV in their party-run process in 2020, and there is also legislation to add RCV to all primaries in the Sunflower state. That would only matter in the presidential arena if separate legislation creating a presidential primary passes the legislature and is signed in to law. Moreover, there is legislation to return to plurality voting in Maine, but it faces an uphill climb in the Democratic-controlled Pine Tree state.


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