Instant run-off voting or ranked choice voting (RCV) is a voting system where voters rank their chosen candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote in an election, the last-place finisher’s votes are eliminated. The ballots of the people who voted for that candidate are counted for their second choices. The process is repeated until a “majority” winner is determined.
RCV clearly violates the one-person, one-vote principle that the Supreme Court has declared is enshrined in the Constitution. RCV allows some voters to cast multiple votes, while some only cast one vote.
RCV also creates problems that do not exist under non-RCV election systems such as ballot exhaustion. Ballot exhaustion is when a voter does not select more than one or rank all candidates in a ranked choice election. Their ballots are not counted in the subsequent rounds and they are effectively disenfranchised.
RCV does not increase participation. In fact, it serves as voter suppression by sowing confusion and hurting voter confidence. A post-election poll in Maine, the first place to use RCV in a federal election, found that confusion over RCV was the number one reason voters in one party did not vote in the general election. A nationwide poll in November 2019 found that 48% of voters opposed RCV and 21% were not sure whether they would support it.
In October 2019, when vetoing a bill that would expand RCV in California, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said: “I am concerned that it has often led to voter confusion and that the promise that ranked-choice voting leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled.”
RCV is also very confusing to election officials. A prime example is the February 3, 2020, Democratic Party presidential caucuses in Iowa, which used a system of ranked choice voting. The system was so bad, that national Democratic Party leader called for a recount after it took days to determine a winner. These problems were repeated in the Nevada presidential caucus on a smaller scale. Difficulties with counting ballots through multiple rounds can also delay election results, leading to frustration among voters and candidates.
RCV does not solve any “problems” with elections, undermines democratic principles, disenfranchises some voters, effectively give some voters multiple votes, undermines voter confidence, and causes confusion for election officials.