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Op-Ed: Is ranked-choice voting a friend or foe to minority representation?

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As far-left progressives seek to fundamentally change America, including how we vote, their controversial and confusing voting scheme known as ranked-choice voting raises concerns about its impact on minority voters. Two recently-released studies trying to answer that question have come to wildly different conclusions. Which one is right?

First, a little background.

Under ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. While some voters find the concept appealing, the intricate process of eliminating candidates and reallocating votes can be confusing. This complexity, compounded by the sheer number of candidates in some races, poses a risk to the fundamental principles of fair and transparent elections.

Almost everywhere it’s been tried, Black Americans have alleged that their ballots are discarded at a higher rate than those of non-minority voters. After losing his mayoral bid in a ranked-choice voting election in Oakland, Calif., Seneca Scott, a Black candidate, said, “When we’re looking at the data, it looked like a lot of people, who clearly intended to vote a certain way, had their ballots tossed for overvotes because they made a mistake. And these mistakes trend in disenfranchised, marginalized communities.”

The head of the New York State chapter of the NAACP went so far as to call ranked-choice voting “voter suppression.”

While the anecdotal evidence was troubling, it wasn’t enough to hold up to legal scrutiny in the courts or make a definitive case in the court of public opinion. Hard evidence came last month when the Center for Election Confidence released a nonpartisan study by Princeton professor Nolan McCarty, “Minority Electorates and Ranked Choice Voting.”

Applying rigorous data analysis to recent ranked-choice voting elections, Prof. McCarty shows minority ballots are, in fact, discarded at a higher rate than those of non-minorities under ranked-choice voting.

“Across a variety of electoral contexts in New York City and Alaska, I find consistent correlations between the ethnic and racial composition of a precinct and the share of exhausted ballots,” McCarty concluded. “These correlations are especially large when there are large numbers of candidates and when there are not strong co-ethnic candidates in the race.”

Within days of McCarty’s study being released, a Soros-backed group championing ranked-choice voting posted a competing study claiming just the opposite. FairVote counters with claims of ranked-choice voting’s positive effects on minority and female candidates. However, a closer examination by CEC fact checkers reveals substantial methodological issues and conflicting evidence.

FairVote contends that the introduction of ranked-choice voting has led to historic wins for candidates of color and women. Yet, the evidence presented lacks conclusiveness. The three ranked-choice voting cities highlighted in FairVote’s report are not representative, introducing selection bias, and are not compared to similar non-ranked-choice voting cities.

Comparative analysis with non-ranked-choice voting cities challenges the notion that ranked-choice voting is a key driver of increased minority and female representation. Additionally, the study fails to consider trends that existed prior to the adoption of ranked-choice voting and fails to consider demographic changes in ranked-choice voting cities.

FairVote claims that candidates of color benefit from ranked-choice voting’s counting process, citing an increase in vote share for Black candidates. However, the lack of disclosure regarding the sample of ranked-choice voting elections and small differences across racial groups raises questions about statistical significance.

Furthermore, the argument that minority candidates benefit more from coalition-building opportunities is questionable, as racially polarized voting may actually hinder minority influence.

The FairVote report asserts that minority candidates face no penalty when running against candidates of the same race due to disproportionate transfers of votes to candidates of the same race in later voting rounds.

This finding, however, may be a reflection of persisting racially polarized voting under ranked-choice voting, presenting a negative effect rather than a positive one. The lack of transparency in how transfer percentages are computed further complicates the evaluation of actual vote gains for minority candidates.

FairVote uses data from the 2023 Oakland mayoral race to claim that voters of color tend to rank more candidates in ranked-choice voting elections, but the data does not support the conclusions drawn by the report. While FairVote suggests this demonstrates robust choice by minority voters, it may actually indicate racially polarized voting. A broader analysis across ethnic and racial groups reveals no consistent pattern in ballot usage, emphasizing the need for nuanced interpretations.

In short, FairVote’s methodology lacks the depth and breadth required for a comprehensive evaluation — it wouldn’t stand up to the scientific inquiry standards of a high school science fair project.

The need for scientifically rigorous scholarship, as in Dr. McCarty’s report released by CEC, remains crucial for navigating the complexities of ranked-choice voting’s effects on minority candidates and voters and understanding how ranked-choice voting weakens minority influence.

No state or local government should adopt ranked-choice voting. It is a flawed voting scheme at best, and a cynical attempt to manipulate outcomes at worst.

Lisa Dixon is the Executive Director of the Center for Election Confidence.

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