Legislators and voters in Utah should reject ranked choice voting as a fundamentally flawed voting method. A recent study authored by Princeton professor Nolan McCarty at the behest of the Center for Election Confidence shows that ranked choice voting disproportionately harms minority voters.

Under ranked choice voting, voters have the option to rank all candidates on the ballot according to their personal preferences. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, officials tally (or count) the ballots multiple times, dropping the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes and reassigning the votes from the dropped candidates, until a single candidate achieves a majority of votes. If someone fails to rank all the candidates, his or her vote may not be counted in all later rounds in a process referred to as “exhaustion.”

McCarty’s study confirms many of the early concerns about ranked choice voting, including those expressed by Black voters — ballots of minority voters are not counted in later rounds at a higher rate than those of nonminority voters. As stated in the report, McCarty stated that he found “consistent correlations between the ethnic and racial composition of a precinct and the share of exhausted ballots” across several electoral contests in New York City and Alaska.

Early on, some were concerned that the ranked choice voting system would be used to disenfranchise minority voters. After losing his mayoral bid in a ranked choice voting election in Oakland, California, Seneca Scott, a Black candidate, said, “When we’re looking at the data, it looked like a lot of people, who clearly intended to vote a certain way, had their ballots tossed for overvotes because they made a mistake. And these mistakes trend in disenfranchised, marginalized communities.”

Utah’s experiment with ranked choice voting might get cut short

At the time, Cynthia Adams, then-president-elect of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, told reporters, “We’re going to fight to the end!” Similarly, Hazel Dukes, the head of the New York state chapter of the NAACP, went so far as to call ranked choice voting “voter suppression.”

Ranked choice voting elections throughout Utah and across the country have been plagued by a lack of transparency in how votes are tabulated, eroding voter confidence. Candidates “win” elections with support from less than 50% of the first-place votes cast. Candidates in third or fourth place after the first few rounds of tabulation end up winning the election. Candidates from a political party can combine to win nearly 60% of the vote but lose to a candidate from the opposite party.

After voters in Sandy tried ranked choice voting, the city asked the state to end the experiment. One resident, Patricia Jones, spoke out during a public meeting saying she vehemently opposed ranked choice voting, citing both the lack of a hand recount possibility and the majority of residents being opposed. “We beg this council to not follow that route,” she said.

Thomas Young, economics professor and treasurer of the Salt Lake County Republican Party recently noted:

“(Under ranked choice voting) some voters are treated more equally than others. The mathematical flaws are well documented and concerning. Voter confusion and discarded ballots are much higher than in traditional elections, which leads to voter disenfranchisement.

“In short, our system of government is only legitimate if we the people give our consent to those who represent us. If a voting system does not treat voters equally, and provide a transparent, fair method of counting, do we really have consent of the governed?”

Voters desperately want to have confidence in elections. Ranked choice voting undermines this confidence by injecting uncertainty and a lack of transparency into the electoral system, while making it more difficult for both voters and election administrators. Utah is right to end this failed experiment before it goes any further.

Jonathon Hauenschild is senior counsel at the Center for Election Confidence.