The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) today announced the results of the organization’s “Mock Ranked Choice Voting Republican Presidential Primary Election” for the Republican Presidential Primary.
VPIRG held the mock primary over a two-week period coinciding with much attention around the first official debate of the presidential primary season. The organization is one of the state’s leading proponents of the use of ranked choice voting (RCV) in presidential primaries and other elections. The mock primary gave Vermonters a chance to see how RCV could work with real candidates.
“Over 200 Vermonters cast their ballots in this mock election, and all of them got the chance to experience a simple, clear method of voting that allowed them to choose the candidates who best represented their values in the setting of a presidential primary,” said Sam McGinty VPIRG’s democracy advocate.
In a typical RCV election, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first choices, they are declared the winner. If not, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated, and the voters who ranked that candidate first have their second choice counted when the ballots are tabulated again. This process continues until a candidate emerges with majority support.
Participants in the mock election were allowed to vote for any of the 13 qualified Republican candidates at the time of the election release on August 15th. Because the participants in the mock election were self-selected, the results should not be taken as a scientific measure of current public opinion or used to predict who will actually win the ongoing election.
It is not uncommon for presidential primaries that do not include a sitting president to draw interest from ten or more candidates from a single party, noted McGinty. “In these crowded fields under our current system, votes are often split between similar candidates, which can inadvertently help advance a candidate with a relatively small but devoted base of supporters. The current system can also force voters to choose between the ‘lesser of two evils’ just so their vote will count.”
“Ranked Choice Voting in the presidential primary would give voters more choices and a stronger voice in the process,” said Paul Burns, VPIRG’s executive director. “By ensuring the winning candidate has broad support, it can help foster a more unified party and a more satisfied voter base.”
Ranked Choice Voting came into play in a big way in this mock election, as voters got to rank their top five candidates in order of preference. All 13 candidates received at least one first place vote, but no candidate achieved a majority in the first round. A majority winner emerged after several rounds of counting. Ultimately, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie “won” with 52 percent of the vote. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley came in second place with 35 percent of the vote.
A total of 10 candidates received less than 10 percent of first place vote, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
In the actual Republican primary, the rules for the VT GOP operate slightly differently. Currently, if one candidate gets over 50 percent, that candidate receives all of Vermont’s delegate share. However, if no candidate gets a majority, the threshold drops to 20 percent, and all candidates who win at least 20 percent of the vote will receive a proportional share of delegates. For the purposes of this exercise, VPIRG used a majority winner format (above 50 percent) for demonstration purposes only.
VPIRG has advocated for Vermont to adopt RCV for the Presidential Primary beginning in 2028. Last year, the Vermont Senate advanced a bill (S.32) with tri-partisan support to do just that.
This voting method is used in dozens of communities and states across the country and in nations around the world. Five states used RCV in Presidential primaries in 2020 and more are considering it for 2024.
The group notes that RCV elections tend to feature less negative campaigning, more choices, more diverse candidates, and winners that better reflect the will of a majority of voters. Additionally, RCV helps cut down on ‘wasted votes.’ The presidential primary field is constantly in flux, and wasted votes occur when a candidate’s name appears on the ballot after they’ve dropped out of the race. Early and vote-by-mail voters often cast their ballot weeks before primary Election Day – but by the time their state’s primary rolls around, some of those candidates have dropped out.
In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, nearly 7,000 Vermont voters cast ‘wasted votes’ on withdrawn candidates. In 2016, over 2,000 Republican votes were also wasted.
“These are well-intentioned voters whose voices in the presidential primaries were effectively silenced when their votes were wasted on candidates who dropped out early. This is a failure of our current “choose one” system and the good news is, we can fix it for the 2028 primary,” Burns added. “With ranked choice voting, voters can feel free to vote for their favorite candidates without fear of wasting their votes or helping to elect someone they really don’t like.”
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