Claremore voter David Henry is among the founding members of a new Oklahoma organization, designed to educate people on ranked choice voting and advocate for it’s implementation during Oklahoma primaries.
Currently, during a primary election, voters choose one option out of several.
With ranked choice voting, instead of choosing one candidate, voters rank their choices from favorite to least favorite.
When the votes are counted, the goal of the party holding the primary is to select the simple majority candidate.
First they total everyone’s first position votes. If a candidate has at least 50 percent support among voters, they are the party’s candidate. If all the candidates are under 50 percent, than everyone’s first and second choices are considered. If the new total doesn’t push a candidate into the 51 percent support position, than the process continues through people’s third, fourth, fifth, and so on rankings until one of the candidates has a simple majority.
“What I like about it is, if you support a candidate that doesn’t really have a lot of traction, you are not really throwing your vote away to go with that person as your first choice,” Henry said. “Your vote is never wasted. Your vote always counts.”
To highlight what he meant by his vote being wasted, Henry recalled a real-life, personal example from the 2016 presidential primary.
“I vote traditionally conservative,” Henry said. “A lot of times, I’ll support a candidate with similar moral issues as myself, but that candidate, by the time they get to the Oklahoma primaries, may be about to drop out.”
“If I vote for Rick Santorum, that’s a wasted vote. He’s not going to get the majority in our state. By voting for him, by voting with my conscious, It’s pretty much wasting my vote, because I know he is not a viable candidate moving forward,” Henry said.
For many potential voters, Henry said, the feeling that your vote doesn’t really matter unless you’re supporting the person favored to win anyway is inducement enough just to sit at home on Election Day and disengage.
Henry also said that ranked choice voting could mitigate the issue of popular, like-minded candidates splitting people’s votes, and leading to a less popular candidate taking the majority.
“Ranked choose voting ensures that the person the majority supports, wins,” Henry said.
However, ranked choice voting is not without it’s critics.
Pam Pollard, former chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party, took issue with ranked choice voting both in it’s current form in places like California and Louisiana, and in the form described above.
In practice, most states who currently use ranked choice voting do so as part of a nonpartisan blanket primary, colloquially referred to as a jungle primary.
This system puts all the republican, democrat, and independent candidates for office on one ballot and then preferences are ranked.
Pollard said that in states where a nonpartisan blanket primary is used, parties that put forward more candidates are disadvantaged because the system could still work to split the field and allow a candidate who didn’t receive a plurality of votes to receive the majority.
Even in the event that ranked choice was implemented in Oklahoma’s current closed primary system, Pollard said, it would still be problematic, because the person who a plurality of people supported as their first choice may not have the majority support when you calculate three or four preferences down.
“There are only a handful of states that do it that way, and there is a reason for that,” Pollard said. “In our experience, that’s not what the voters want.”
She also worried about how the party would appoint the portion of presidential primary delegates that are supposed to be awarded proportionally per party rules.
Rogers County Election Board Secretary Julie Dermody shared some practical concerns, such as the cost required to reprogram and replace all of the state of Oklahoma voting machines to read, record and calculate the ranked voting system.
Dermody also expressed concern about the time and effort costs of educating the public on the new system.
The bipartisan organization Oklahomans for Ranked Choice Voting, is still in it’s early stages, with it’s second meeting scheduled for Saturday, July 25, on Zoom. The event begins at 3 p.m., and event details can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.
“Right now, the first step, is educating people on ranked choice voting, and trying to make people aware of what it is,” Henry said. “It’s pretty radical when you say you want to change how we vote. That’s really scary and will turn a lot of people off.”
“People say, ‘what we do works, why mess with it?’ or ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’ but It hasn’t worked for me since I’ve been old enough to vote, and I’m in my mid 30s,” Henry said. “I’ve always gone to the primaries voting for someone that lined up with my conscious, knowing they didn’t have a chance to end up as the national candidate.”