Sunday, April 23, 2023

Sunday Series: Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries, Updated (April 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. 

The thrust of activity on adding RCV to presidential primaries for 2024 in legislatures across the country has shifted since FHQ last updated matters in March. While much of the first few months of the 2023 legislative sessions were about introducing legislation, the time since has been about moving that legislation rather than proposing new bills. As such, there were no new measures introduced to layer RCV into the presidential nomination process (or ban it altogether) since mid-March. There was, however, continued progress for some of those RCV-related bills that have been floating around out there this session. 

From 30,000 feet, the overview remains much the same. The existing pattern of legislation has been for Republican-controlled states (where legislation has been proposed) to move bans on RCV while Democratic-controlled legislatures and Democratic legislators in red states have largely been behind efforts to augment the presidential primary process with RCV. That outlook has not changed. But it has evolved to some degree. To the extent any of the RCV-related legislation has been successful, it has been more likely to move through legislatures and be signed into law in Republican-controlled states. The South Dakota measure to prohibit RCV that was before Governor Noem (R) during the last update was signed into law. Likewise, the ban bill in Idaho was signed by Governor Little (R). And in Montana, the measure to prohibit the use of RCV in the Treasure state has made it through the legislature and awaits Governor Gianforte's consideration. 

All of that maintains the status quo as it has existed in those states. And in many ways, that -- maintaining the status quo -- is the path of least resistance with regard to RCV. 

And resistance is the key word when the focus shifts to those states with active bills to institute RCV for 2024 (or beyond) in the state-run presidential nomination processes. It is not that those bills have not budged, it is that most of those bills have not easily made their way through the legislative process. Yet, most is not all. A handful of RCV measures have found some modicum of success. 

One of the Hawaii bills has passed both the state House and Senate. Only, passage of the legislation has been in two different forms and it is unclear whether the two sides will be able to iron out those differences in a bill that includes a number of other electoral changes. [And recall that Hawaii does not yet have a presidential primary. It may by the end of the 2023 legislative session, but RCV would only come to the presidential primary process in the Aloha state in 2024 if there is a presidential primary in 2024.] The Vermont Senate was also able to pass its version of an RCV bill (exclusively for the presidential primary in the Green Mountain state), but that measure has yet to be taken up in the state House. And the House version of the same bill has been untouched in committee since it was introduced in February.

Outside of that, movement has been slow or non-existent most everywhere else on pro-RCV legislation. There were committee hearings on bills in Connecticut and Illinois. But in the former there was no recommendation from the committee one way or the other and that bill continues to be dormant. The Illinois committee hearings occurred with great fanfare (or at least news coverage), but has subsequently been met with some pushback. 

And that is it. 

The picture of RCV and the 2024 presidential nomination process remains one of incremental movement at best in the first part of 2023. A handful of Republican-controlled states in the mountain West have bolstered the status quo with bans of RCV, and momentum on the pro- side has been next to negligible. Vermont and Hawaii may get RCV over the finish line, but progress has been slow. That may incrementally advance where RCV is being experimented with in the presidential nomination process for 2024. But note also that most of the experimenting is being done by state parties in party-run processes on the Democratic side. And further, regardless of whether the legislation seeks to establish RCV or ban it, most of the movement is in relatively small states. Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, South Dakota and Vermont are not the big hitters of national politics. Laboratories for or against RCV are in small states for now. And that may or may not be the best proving ground for it in the presidential nomination process (or anywhere else).

The bottom line, however, is that while RCV may be considered a remedy to some of the maladies that plague American politics, its adoption is not yet widespread. And that does not look to change much more than incrementally in 2023. 


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