Georgia’s top election official pushed back Thursday on reports that he advocates implementing ranked-choice voting, a controversial procedure known as an instant runoff, in the state.
The denial from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office comes one day after he called for the state Legislature to reform the state’s election system to avoid future runoffs.
“Secretary Raffensperger has not endorsed any specific proposal or suggested otherwise,” Raffensperger spokesman Robert Sinners told The Daily Signal in an email Thursday.
A runoff occurred again this month in Georgia when U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker after a second round of voting.
“Some inaccurate reporting has emphasized ranked-choice voting–which is simply untrue,” Sinners told The Daily Signal in the email. “The call will be up to the [Georgia] General Assembly.”
Alaska and Maine are the only two states currently using ranked-choice voting statewide. In November, Nevada voters approved ranked-choice voting for its elections when voters approved a ballot question.
In this procedure, voters rank their choices among candidates for an office, and the same ballots are counted several times until a winner emerges.
In a follow-up question, The Daily Signal asked Raffensperger’s spokesman about a New York Times article that paraphrased Raffensperger as presenting ranked-choice voting as one of three options for state legislators to consider.
The New York Times’ Dec. 8 report reads:
Mr. Raffensperger said he would present three proposals to lawmakers. They include forcing large counties to open more early-voting locations to reduce hourslong line like the ones that formed at many Metro Atlanta sites last week; lowering the threshold candidates must achieve to avoid a runoff to 45% from 50%; and instituting a ranked-choice instant-runoff system that would not require voters to come back to the polls again after the general election.
Asked about this by The Daily Signal, Sinners responded: “No specific proposals have been provided to legislators as of yet.”
Reason, a libertarian magazine, also reported this week that Raffensperger would consider asking lawmakers to switch to ranked-choice voting.
But Reason’s reporting was based on the Times’ account. Other media outlets reporting that Raffensperger advocated ranked-choice voting also relied on the Times’ reporting.
The Georgia Libertarian Party Senate candidate Chase Oliver tweeted his support for adopting this system in Georgia.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, issued a statement slamming Raffensperger based on previous news reports, most of which seemed to trace back to the Times article.
“In his vain attempt to garner attention from the media and the socialist left, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is looking to disenfranchise voters by making it harder and more confusing to vote by seeking to change the Georgia voting system to ranked-choice voting (RCV),” CPAC’s statement says, adding: “CPAC calls on Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Legislature to reject Secretary Raffensperger’s attempt to upend Georgia’s successful election reforms by implementing the failed ranked-choice voting system.”
Georgia-based conservative commentator Erick Erickson tweeted this week that he was “reliably told that Georgia’s secretary of state was misunderstood by a reporter.”
Erickson apparently was referring to New York Times reporter Reid J. Epstein.
Under Georgia law, if no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the election automatically goes to a runoff. Georgia and Louisiana are the only two states that hold runoffs as part of a general election, while 10 states–including Georgia–provide for runoffs during primary elections, according to Ballotpedia.
“Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a general election runoff,” Raffensperger said in a public statement Wednesday. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the general election runoff and consider reforms.”
Here’s more on how ranked-choice voting works:
Instead of choosing a single candidate for a given office, voters rank each candidate from “1” to “2” to “3” and so on. If one candidate wins 50% or more of the first-preference votes, the election is over. If no one wins the first tally, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and election officials make another tally of votes for the remaining candidates.
Voters who selected the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their vote counted for their second preference in this next round. Counting continues, perhaps with one or more other candidates eliminated, until one candidate eventually emerges with a majority of votes.
In ranked-choice voting, a voter doesn’t have to rank his choices and may opt to pick just one. However, if a voter doesn’t select and rank multiple candidates, his or her ballot is more likely to be discarded after the first round of counting.
In addition to Nevada, the localities of Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Multnomah County, Oregon; Fort Collins, Colorado; Evanston, Illinois; Portland, Maine; and Ojai, Calfornia, adopted ranked-choice voting as the result of November ballot questions.
The ranked-choice system is used in 62 jurisdictions nationally, according to FairVote, a group that advocates the procedure.
Some conservative commentators criticize ranked-choice voting, charging that it helped Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who technically is a Republican, defeat the Alaska Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, Kelly Tshibaka, while Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, defeated her Republican challenger, former Gov. Sarah Palin.
But Rob Richie, president of FairVote, stressed that ranked-choice voting can be used differently across jurisdictions and shouldn’t be painted with a broad brush. Richie noted that states with runoff elections allow military and overseas voters to use ranked-choice voting only for absentee voting.
Richie added that the Virginia Republican Party has adopted the system for state nominating conventions, as has Canada’s Conservative Party.
“Georgia has so many runoff elections in primaries and generals that a candidate has to run four times to get elected and voters have to vote multiple times,” Richie told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “Why not just have an instant runoff election?”
New York City, larger than several states, had notable problems using ranked-choice voting for the city’s 2021 primary elections.
“No election official should propose ranked-choice voting, because it confuses and leads to disenfranchising voters,” said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
Von Spakovsky argued there is merit to having runoff elections.
“Voters are shortchanged if they don’t have the chance to evaluate the top two finishers,” he said. “It’s important for the individual who wins a race to have a majority choosing that individual. A plurality can be questionable.”
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