Ranked choice voting and its critics: Is extremism bad?

The Sept.1 issue of The Bates Student included a piece titled “One Person One Vote: The Case against Ranked Choice Voting.” The arguments included in this Forum piece rely on incorrect mathematics and assumptions about electoral politics and global political events, and in some ways, failed to account for such concepts as object permanence and theory of mind. 

It is implied that the One Nation Party in Australia, which is correctly described as a racist and nationalist danger, exists because ranked-choice voting (RCV) has allowed for smaller parties to gain success. While I may be misinterpreting, I can see no other reason for including this information after mentioning that RCV creates more open candidate fields and will lead to the fractionation of parties. The obvious issue with this implication is that it neglects to acknowledge that the two mainstream parties in the US, the Democratic and Republican Parties, have also clearly had racist and nationalist platforms, and I am not talking about the distant past. 

President Clinton’s leadership ushered in a new era of “tough on crime” democrats that benefited from villainizing, criminalizing, and disenfranchising African Americans. President George H.W Bush ran campaign advertisements that used the very image of a black man as an obvious dog whistle to strike fear in the public. for the sitting president, his reliance on nationalism and the use of racist dog whistles is if nothing else, painfully obvious. There is, in my opinion, no reading of the Trump campaign that can paint his statements about Mexicans in a non-nationalistic light. In short, the One Nation Party’s racist rhetoric is not a unique facet of a system of ranked-choice voting. 

I should find it worthwhile to address the rest of the claims made in this piece individually, as they necessitate short retorts: 

  1. “At a time where our country is being run by an extremist, the goal of every Bates student should be preventing extremists on either side from running in an election.”

Why is Trump’s extremism an indicator that extremism on “either side” is inherently bad? We see the faults of Trump’s“extremism,” I suppose, but is he truly “far-right?” It seems more traditional conservatives are actually more at odds with his politics. What does “extreme” leftism have to do with the way Trump runs the country? What is the excessively radical opposite of caging children at the border? Not caging children at the border? Is that bad?

There is this perceived toxic similarity between the “far-left” and “far-right” that neglects to explore said similarity between the democrats and republicans on the more mainstream level. That is the real toxicity, and it is the reason folks are continuously dissatisfied with politics. To the poor, there are in many ways too few differences between these two parties, neither of which actually care to change conditions for them. 

2. “The average voter should not need to take a crash course in the Bates Politics Department to be able to figure out how to cast a ballot. Expecting working people with families, jobs, and children to take care of to drop everything and learn the intricacies of RCV is not realistic nor beneficial to working Mainers.’

I feel this passage is implying that the working class is incapable of ordering things by how much they like them. It seems that, though attempting to reject “intellectual” calls for RCV and consider the hardships of the actual “average” voter, the argument is even less considerate of this very demographic. Without a college degree, people know how to order things by how much they like those things. Just watch a YouTube ranking tier list video. 

While it’s clearly meant to display some sort of unique and admirable understanding, this passage neglects to consider that other people who don’t go to a college with a 70k fee actually have basic mammal brain functioning. It is important to understand that other people, people who we have never met before, have thoughts. This principle is called the theory of mind and is important to remember when arguing about how most people feel. 

3. Why should I vote for Vermin Supreme in November only for my vote to be recounted not once, not twice, but three different times towards another candidate if I am just doing it as a joke

This seems to imply that a vote will be somehow magnified when applied to another candidate. If one vote for Vermin Supreme, and then one’s vote is moved along while the lowest choice is cut three separate times, then Sara Gideon, for example, does not get three additional votes. She ends with one additional vote. A Vermin Supreme vote may count for a different candidate once, and then it is removed from that candidate and added to a different one, and so on and so forth. 

The mathematical principles of addition and subtraction and object permanence would inform that interpretation. If I hide your vote behind a tree, and then I move it to a bush, where it appears, I still have just one vote. Believe it or not, it is the very same vote moving, not being counted separately multiple times, that winds up counting toward a different candidate. 

4. Lastly, what happens if all the candidates I list on the RCV ballot are eliminated? Well, it’s like I didn’t vote at all!

If I vote for Winnie the Pooh, and we don’t have RCV, it is just as much like I “didn’t vote at all.” You have the option to rank n-1 candidates. Therefore, if you choose not to, and only rank one, for example, and they are eliminated, then of course, that is your personal choice. In fact, it’s actually a good thing that we have that choice, as we have a constitutional right to not vote. 

5. I don’t think Maine nor Bates wants any more promotion of extremists from anywhere on the political spectrum. 

 I want an “extremist,” because the status quo is conservative. So, if universal healthcare, or the platform of Bernie Sanders, is “extreme,” then I myself do want something “extreme.” And I have reason to believe I am not the singular person who wants that. I think most people want affordable insulin, but maybe that’s just my radical communist delusions at play. 

6. I understand the desire to see real majorities determine the outcome of elections, but we’ve got to face the reality that if only 40% of eligible voters vote in an election, then the candidates are fighting for a majority of 40%.

There is definitely a real need to increase voter turnout in this country. Our political infrastructure favors the rich and abled. However, ranked choice voting in no way deters an increase in turnout. The idea that there’s a tradeoff between them is a false choice, because ranked choice voting and increasing turnout are in no sense mutually exclusive. 

7. I know one scenario that Bates students and I don’t want to repeat is folks like Jill Stein causing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to lose to Donald Trump. Disaffected Sanders supporters also had a role in the previous election as well, and might still have one to play should they choose to vote for President Trump out of spite towards the Democratic establishment like they did in 2016.

While I can’t speak for others, certainly I don’t want Jill Stein to cause Hillary Clinton to lose to Donald Trump. However, thankfully, this literally did not happen. Jill Stein’s portion of the vote had no impact on the electoral college results. Yes, in some states the number of votes she received was larger than the gap between Clinton and Trump. However, “both pre-election polls and the national exit poll suggests that a lot of them wouldn’t have voted at all, if they’d been forced to pick between the two major candidates,” according to FiveThirtyEight. While it’s true some Sanders supporters voted for Trump, concluding this was out of spite is at best slightly presumptuous and at worst untrue. The Sanders campaign drew support from a constituency that did not traditionally vote democrat. NPR reported in 2017, after the Cooperative Congressional Election study, that Sanders-Trump voters were much less likely than Sanders-Clinton or Sanders-third party voters to have been Democrats”. When he did not win the nomination, why would these folks that historically voted republican vote for Clinton? Am I to understand it’s because Sanders happened to be a democratic candidate, and they supported him? 

The major points of this piece misunderstood the mathematics of voting and characterized Mainers as, frankly, incapable of making lists. Among other issues with questionable assumptions about past elections, the major issue I take is the insistence that “extremism” is bad. In a climate where our two major political parties fail to gain enthusiastic voters and represent the interests of many Americans, it would seem “extreme” to have universal healthcare. I for one, am an advocate of that “extremist” position. 

Ranked-choice voting actually enables voters to truly vote for their personal first choice, without taking into consideration qualms about “electability” that has for years led to the most moderate and useless government officials being elected. A wider breadth of candidates will always be more democratic. It’s a simple statistical truth that if we increase our “n,”(number of observations), we are more likely to yield an accurate mean. In the interest of supporting democracy, ranked-choice voting is the way to go.