SALT LAKE CITY — If any democratic concept had a truly super Tuesday this week, it was ranked-choice voting.
That’s true even though it wasn’t anywhere on the ballot.
With the capital “D” Democratic candidates dropping like spring blossoms in the summer sun, many people who took advantage of democracy’s 21st century gift of early voting were left holding onto … well … their pens, and wondering.
What happened to my vote? Can I try again?
The answer to the second question is an emphatic no. While it may once have been a rallying cry in Chicago, it’s actually illegal to vote both early and often.
As to the first one, it’s complicated. Because candidates had a Dec. 2 deadline to get on the ballot in Utah, voters in the Democratic primary found the names of nine candidates on their ballots who no longer are in the race.
The state’s director of elections told the Deseret News 333,000 Utahns voted early, which means they likely cast ballots before Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out. In California, the number of early voters had reached 2.7 million by late last week.
Those votes still count, and any candidate who gets at least 15% of the vote will pick up delegates. That means those candidates will have some leverage going into the Democratic convention if no candidate has picked up 1,991 delegates, the number needed to secure the nomination outright.
What do you do with leverage? You lobby for a political appointment or perhaps support for a pet cause, in exchange for your support.
Don’t look so disgusted. That’s how politics always has worked. It’s also how segments of the population get their desires represented.
But what if, instead, you had the option to rank the names on your ballot in order of preference? Say you really liked Buttigieg, but if he wasn’t around, your next choice would be Joe Biden?
Ranked-choice voting allows people to do this if three or more people are on the ballot. In this case, it takes 15% to qualify for delegates, so the candidate below that threshold with the least votes would be eliminated, and then his or her supporters’ second choices would be distributed to the remaining candidates. The process would continue until only those with 15% or more remained.
Utah already is dabbling with this concept in some municipal elections. Local governments are allowed to try it as a pilot project until 2026. The city of Vineyard in Utah County is one. People there obviously thought it would be a better idea than flipping a coin, which is what happened five years ago when two people tied in a race for City Council.
The idea is not without its problems. Critics say it dilutes support and causes confusion. A lot of voters don’t know enough about all the candidates to rank them intelligently.
I can see those points when it comes to municipal races, where turnout is low, which is why I remain largely undecided on the concept. But Super Tuesday, which was preceded by months of televised debates, news stories and TV commercials, seemed like a day made for the idea.
Two states with upcoming presidential primaries, Hawaii and Alaska, plan to use ranked-choice voting. Writing for realclearpolitics.com, the leaders of Fairvote, a group that supports the concept, said it “minimizes wasted votes, makes voters more powerful and provides a truer read of what voters think.”
The presidential nominating process already has enough quirks in it to make people question the value of their vote. As Utah’s Democratic Party chairman explained to the Deseret News, 19 of the state’s 29 “pledge delegates” to the Democratic convention will be chosen by voters and apportioned according to the outcomes in each of the state’s four congressional districts. Party leaders and elected officials get to pick four more delegates, and six more will be selected as at-large delegates according to overall voting in the state.
One candidate, Mike Bloomberg, told Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson his strategy is to win enough delegates to keep the outcome undecided until the convention, when the party’s “super delegates” and old-fashioned political wrangling could come into play.
Try explaining any of this to a foreigner interested in how the United States nominates presidential candidates. I have. I would much prefer to explain baseball’s balk rule.
Parties, which are private organizations, have given voters more say in this process in recent decades. Ranked-choice voting may just add another quirk to an already quirky process, but it would provide a better idea of which candidate has the most public support.