Ranked Choice Voting and Sour Grapes

Last year, you’ll recall Maine became the first state in the nation to experiment with ranked choice voting. Full disclaimer: I’m in complete favor of the approach. All the arguments against it that I’ve seen so far are nothing more than hot air spoken by people who either don’t fully understand the concept (and choose not to enlighten themselves) or seem to be doing their best to make other people unable to fully understand the concept.

To illustrate, I present to you Exhibit A: Bruce Poliquin, the Republican Congressman who lost his seat last year because of Ranked Choice Voting. He’s making the rounds now, decrying the format because it “robbed” him of the election. Oh wait. I mean, because it robbed the voters of the election.

In Poliquin’s account to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws, “on Election Day 2018, I won my second re-election by receiving 2,200 more votes than any of my three liberal opponents, one Democrat and two Independents.”

Poliquin, though, didn’t win.

That initial, first-round count on Election Night wasn’t the final word, because Maine voters in 2016 and again in June 2018 adopted ranked-choice voting. The process requires election officials to add in the second- or third-place choices of voters whose first pick came up short.

Poliquin said the backers of independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar essentially “got another bite of the apple” when their votes were redistributed between the two leaders in the race, as the law mandates.

In effect, he said, “those voters who cast their primary ballots for the two candidates who least represent” the values of the district “ended up choosing the rank-vote winner. Very misguided and unfair.”

To me, this is like a football team being upset because they were ahead at halftime, and yet the other team was allowed to come out and play in the second half. That team “got another bite of the apple” when their points were counted in the second half.

Ranked Choice Voting was decided by the voters. (Multiple times!) The rules were plain as day well in advance of the election. The election then ran according to those rules. And then suddenly when it didn’t go the way he wanted to, it’s a travesty?

Let’s try basketball, instead. Up until 1979, the NBA didn’t have 3 pointers. All shots counted for 2 points. In 1979, that rule changed. Suddenly, shots a certain distance from the basket counted for more points. That was the new rule of the game. If a team were to object to losing by a few points “because those three point shots shouldn’t count for three points,” what are you supposed to tell them?

The rules changed, buddy. Move on. It doesn’t make anyone’s vote more powerful than anyone else’s. It makes it so that you can vote for who you want to vote for and not have to worry that your vote is ultimately wasted in a political climate dominated by two parties. It makes it so independents can more effectively woo voters, who know they can vote for them without making it so the person they want least to be elected gets elected because that person’s opponents split the vote.

Poliquin’s out there trying to paint it like this was such chaos. Like the entire thing was a disaster, and Mainers are all up in arms about it. It’s true that I’ve talked to about three people (total) out of all of my friends who didn’t like it. But (though this may be hard to believe) I’ve got way more than three friends. It wasn’t chaos. It ran as expected. If you really wanted Poliquin elected, you maybe object because the person you wanted to win, didn’t.

Sour grapes, people. Ranked choice voting was wonderful. I hope the whole country follows suit.


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