Far-right Republicans denounce push for ranked-choice voting in Arizona
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With Arizona set to see a ballot initiative in 2024 to implement ranked-choice voting across the state, Republicans at the legislature sounded the alarm on Wednesday, saying the voting style is wrong for the Grand Canyon State.
“Ranked-choice voting is a proven scam to further destroy integrity in our elections,” warned Rep. Austin Smith during a press conference organized by the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus.
The Wittman Republican has sponsored a measure to ban ranked choice voting that has earned the support of the GOP-controlled House. A similar proposal in the upper chamber has been passed out of the Senate along party lines. While the Governor’s Office wouldn’t comment on the legislation, the bills have failed to gain any Democratic support and Gov. Katie Hobbs has previously cited bipartisanship as one of the factors that will determine whether or not her signature is secured.
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Arizona currently operates under a winner-take-all system, wherein the candidate that earns a majority of the votes triumphs. In ranked-choice voting, however, voters number candidates in order of preference, from 1 to 5. If a candidate receives the majority of the first-place rankings, they win. But if no one receives more than 50% of the votes, a second round of counting occurs. In that second round, the candidate with the least amount of votes in the first round is dropped and those who voted for that candidate have their second choices tallied, instead. The process continues until a winner is determined.
Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday said the process is too complicated and will only further delay the state’s election reporting times, which have become a central point of criticism among GOP politicians.
“It makes no sense that we’d be moving towards such a complicated voting system at a time when confidence in our system is already, understandably, at a low,” said Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson. “It’s already incomprehensibly and routinely taking some states, including Arizona, weeks to count votes and determine our winners.”
During the 2022 midterms, Hobbs’ victory wasn’t unofficially predicted until Nov. 14, nearly a week after Election Day. But election tallies have always taken several days to complete, but it has only become a point of contention recently due to increasingly close races in Arizona contests. Hobbs won her seat with a 17,000 vote difference out of more than 2 million total ballots cast.
And GOP messaging has created a spike in mail-in ballots being dropped off on Election Day, adding to the delay.
Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said the voting style disenfranchises voters who are confused or neglect to rank their top five candidates.
“Many voters in states where ranked-choice voting is allowed only rank their top two choices,” he said. “The reality is that ranked-choice voting is designed in such a way that it may not always result in the candidate with the most first-choice votes winning an election.”
But Chuck Coughlin, who heads the Phoenix political consulting firm HighGround, said that leaves out the full picture. HighGround is partnering with Save Democracy Arizona, a nonprofit aiming to put the voting system on the 2024 ballot.
Under ranked-choice voting, a majority of votes ultimately go toward the winning candidate, regardless of the number of votes won from each of the five possible rankings, Coughlin said. And voters who chose to rank only their favorite two candidates made that choice, effectively disenfranchising themselves.
Opponents who claim that the system is too confusing for Arizonans to handle think too little of what voters are capable of, Coughlin added.
“It’s saying you can’t go to the grocery store and make a choice of five different products,” he said. “It underestimates how voters think.”
The real reason far-right lawmakers are against the voting style is because it threatens the extreme partisanship that characterizes primary elections, which benefits their races, Coughlin said.
“They win in primaries, and they want to keep it that way,” he said.
In the 2022 midterms, only around five state legislative general elections were considered truly competitive.
Arizona’s statewide partisan primaries are open to independent and unaffiliated voters, but they can only vote in one party’s election. That requirement means that the percentage of non-partisan voters who participate in primaries is dramatically lower than overall share of the state’s electorate. Proponents of open primary systems have criticized more restrictive systems for fostering ideologically extreme views over mainstream ones, while supporters of those restrictions argue that partisan voters should be the only voice in choosing who represents them on a general election ballot.
In the 2022 Republican primary, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake won the nomination with only 48% of the vote.
“She went on to lose in the general because she didn’t have a majority of the electorate with her,” Coughlin said.
Save Democracy Arizona advocates for both open primaries and ranked choice voting. Both of those electoral reforms, Coughlin said, would foster more competitive races and more substantial debates. General elections would be given more weight than they have in Arizona, where the primary election stage tends to overshadow them.
“(Elections is) the only industry where we limit competition.” Coughlin said. “This is creating more competition which will create better answers.”
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