As candidates drop out of the race, millions of Americans who already cast ballots for them discover that they’ve spent their one choice on a failed contender. Never was this dynamic more starkly illustrated than when Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, each withdrew from the race in the final 48 hours before polls opened on Super Tuesday, after many Democrats had already voted.
According to research from FairVote, a ranked-choice-voting advocacy group, more than 2.2 million primary voters cast their ballot this year for candidates who ended up dropping out of the race by the time the count was done—some 8.7 percent of the total votes cast in the entire primary to date. In the 2016 Republican primary, about 600,000 votes were wasted on withdrawn candidates, FairVote’s president, Rob Richie, says.
“Give them a backup next time,” Richie argues. A handful of states—Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming—actually adopted ranked-choice voting for their primaries and caucuses in advance of 2020, but because Biden is now the lone remaining candidate, those upcoming elections will be moot even though the votes will still be held. Pre-pandemic, a record 75,000 Nevadans cast early ballots for the first time using ranked-choice voting, with few complaints.
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Millions more Americans will soon use the system after New York City residents approved the use of ranked-choice voting for its primary elections. In Utah, Republicans used ranked-choice voting at their state nominating convention, which took place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. And just last week, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation that will allow local governments in Virginia to adopt the format.
“It is not impossible to imagine how a majority [of], if not all, states could be using such a system by 2024,” says Unite America’s Troiano. “It’s better. In many cases, it’s faster. It’s cheaper. The outcomes are more representative. That has happened at lightning speed.”
Bennet said he came around on the idea after seeing Maine become the nation’s first state to adopt ranked-choice voting for its state and federal elections. Advocates for ranked-choice voting extol its benefits in large-field races, because it ensures that the winner will have received more than 50 percent of the vote without the added hassle and expense of a runoff election, which many states and cities still use. As with voting by mail, the biggest challenge its supporters have is convincing Republicans that ranked-choice voting offers no partisan advantage to either party. With a few exceptions, most of the cities that have adopted the format are places where Democrats dominate.
Maine will use the system this fall in its presidential vote, which would be another first—so long as a GOP effort to stop its use doesn’t succeed. Though the reform was initially a bipartisan effort, Republicans in Maine have turned fiercely against ranked-choice voting, in part because its adoption was seen as a reaction to the election (and reelection) of Governor Paul LePage, who won both of his races despite never securing a majority of the vote. “It’s the most horrific thing in the world,” LePage said of the system in 2018.