by Frank Miele, Real Clear Politics, September 12, 2022
As I hinted would happen in my previous column, Alaska’s experiment in ranked choice voting had its intended result – the defeat of conservative hero Sarah Palin and the election of the first Democratic member of Congress from the state in more than 50 years.
No wonder Republicans are excited to see the same revolutionary system installed across the nation.
Huh? Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would Republicans want to see a Democrat elected?
Good question, and one best answered with another question: Why do you think they are called Republicans in Name Only?
Two such Republicans in Montana penned an op-ed last week that was published in newspapers across the state. Former Gov. Marc Racicot and former Secretary of State Bob Brown touted non-partisan elections (with or without “ranked choice”) as the path to “free and open primary elections,” ignoring the fact that primaries cannot achieve their purpose of selecting champions who will represent party ideals if they are open.
In most scenarios, the kind of open primary envisioned by Racicot and Brown is paired with a ranked-choice general election where the top primary candidates (usually four) compete against each other. If none surpasses 50% on the first ballot, then the votes of the last-place candidate are discarded and his voters’ second choices are tallied instead. This process continues until one of the candidates achieves a true majority of first-, second- and third-choice votes. Although it’s sold as a method to weed out extremists, it seems more likely to have the practical effect of ensuring mediocrity. Call it the Peter Principle of politics.
As with most dangerous ideas, it pays to follow the money to see where it originated. Although ranked choice voting is generally sold as a bipartisan, or even nonpartisan, idea whose time has come, the money says something different. The Capital Research Center concluded that most of the money behind advocacy of ranked choice voting comes from the left, including several George Soros-related foundations. So if you trust left-wing groups to reshape democracy, you’re good to go. If not, then take a close look before you buy the pig in a poke.
What RINOs and Democrats actually want to accomplish with open primaries and ranked choice voting is the suppression of populist outsider candidates and the validation of an establishment ruling class who makes decisions for the rest of us. To sell this power consolidation to everyday voters, proponents of ranked choice voting use the political tool promoted by Machiavelli and perfected by 21st century Democrats – fear.
Fear of so-called extremists. Fear of Sarah Palin. Fear of the Tea Party. Fear of parents who want to protect their children from Marxist ideology and gender-bending educators. Fear of “The Former Guy.” Fear of what Joe Biden calls Ultra MAGA Republicans. You saw that fear exemplified in Biden’s blood-red speech to the nation in which he called Americans who literally want to “make America great again” the biggest threat to democracy.
And these people who push fear and division say they have the perfect way to protect democracy – by disenfranchising those who pose the greatest risk to the powers that be, namely those who are dissatisfied with politics as usual and want to shake up the system.
Interestingly, the ruling elite has in essence co-opted this passion for change and turned it on its head. While Biden seems content to crush the opposition with brute force, a much more subtle battle for the soul of America is being waged by intellectuals such as Brown and establishmentarians like Racicot. Appealing to the American instinct for novelty, they have proposed the radical idea of re-inventing democracy, or rather manipulating it so that they can greatly diminish the chance of an iconoclast like Donald Trump ever being elected.
And although it’s called by the benign name of “ranked choice voting,” it has the rank odor of Third World authoritarianism. The first step is to convince the people that political parties are a danger to the state. Instead of the Republican Party being an expression of the will of the people who belong to it, the new Machiavellis paint it as a troublesome aberration that must be neutralized.
Then, after poisoning the well, these would-be dictators magnanimously give voters the chance to choose between the malignant Republicans or the level-headed Democrats in the open primary, where all candidates compete against each other regardless of party affiliation. This is sold as an amplification of the people’s right to choose any candidate, but don’t be deceived. You already have the right to choose any candidate in the general election; the primary is intended to give voters an opportunity to choose a champion for their cause.
Depending on the individual states’ rules, the so-called “jungle primary” will elevate two, three, or four candidates to the general election ballot. Here’s where the scheme first invites manipulation and deception. Let’s say one party has a number of attractive candidates in a district, and the opposing party has a less well-known candidate running for the same office. Under such a scenario, one party could wind up with all the candidates on the general election ballot. That’s fine if it’s your party, but if it’s not, then you have been deprived of your opportunity to see your issues addressed by a candidate in the election that counts – the one that puts someone in office.
Racicot and Brown turn this on its head, suggesting that we all benefit by having fewer candidates, and thus fewer ideas, to consider. They write:
In Montana, and in many other states, voters in primary elections are not free to vote for candidates of their choice. The purpose of primary elections in Montana and other states is for the two major political parties to select their most formidable partisans, who will then face off in the general election in the fall. In the primary election, voters are forced to make a choice to vote either a straight Republican or Democratic ticket. That’s a choice, but it’s clearly not truly a freedom of choice. [Emphasis added.]
So the authors actually admit that ranked choice voting subverts the very purpose of primary elections. They then go on to acknowledge that under their proposal, “Candidates narrowly focusing on ultra partisan true believers would likely be dislodged from the position of dominance they enjoy with closed primary elections.”
Sadly, Montana already has “open” primaries in the sense that any registered voter can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary, but not both. That has led to massive mischief in many elections as the minority-party Democrats who have little of interest in their own primaries in red Montana cross over and vote in the Republican primary to try to either elect or defeat candidates whom they consider unworthy.
By eliminating partisan primaries altogether, Racicot and Brown argue that they would “increase the chances of issue and solution-oriented candidates to move on from the primary to the general election.” Of course, that just means the candidates will be interested in solving problems the way that Racicot and Brown want them solved. I’d like to see solutions to the open border, unconstitutional lockdowns, a corrupt justice system, rising crime, runaway spending, and educational decline, but most of all I’d like to see Republicans stop compromising their principles in order to “get something done.” Unfortunately, ranked choice voting in Montana would just mean more Republicans with fewer principles.
Racicot and Brown may truly believe, as they wrote in a prior op-ed, that their re-invention will “return political authority to the people,” but that is a fantasy. Again, in their latest essay, they claim that “There can be no real government of, by and for the people unless the people are free to make their own choices, unconstrained by the narrowly defined choices made for them by the major political parties.”
But without political parties, the people have no voice whatsoever. To imagine a return to some kind of Athenian democracy is the height of folly when technology, money, and incumbency combine to ensure that only the best-organized opposition has any chance to break through and disrupt entrenched power.
And that’s before we even get to the ranked part of the vote, which comes when those final four candidates face off against each other. Because of the complicated nature of the tally, the election results must be determined by computers, not by humans. I don’t have to tell anyone that in the current climate of distrust and fear, that can’t possibly improve anyone’s confidence in the accuracy of the results. But beyond that, there is an underlying opportunity for those with unlimited resources to manipulate the system by running phantom candidates who will drain votes from their opponents as well as inviting lesser known or just less popular candidates to seize the role of spoiler.
Something like that happened in the Alaska election, where we witnessed both a ranked choice vote in a special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Don Young at the same time that a primary was being held for the next full term of the same position.
In the special election, the first ever held under the new system passed by a Republican legislature and governor, the Democrat won because two Republicans were on the ballot representing irreconcilable viewpoints within the party. Palin is an outsider who wants to throw a monkey wrench into politics as usual, just as she did in her 2008 vice presidential run. Nick Begich III, on the other hand, is a third-generation member of a political dynasty that defines politics as usual.
Begich’s grandfather, Nick Begich Sr. was the last Democrat to serve as Alaska’s lone member of Congress. His death in an airplane crash in 1972 resulted in the beginning of Republican Rep. Don Young’s 50-year tenure in Congress, and though Nick III is running as a Republican, his family is strongly identified with Democrats, not just because of his grandfather, but also because his uncle, Mark Begich, served in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from 2009 to 2015. That doesn’t mean Nick III is himself a Democrat, but it probably means he is more comfortable reaching across the aisle to do deals with Democrats than helping Palin get to Washington, D.C., to drain the swamp.
In fact, Begich had his chance to do the right thing for his avowed political party by taking his name off the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election, thus virtually ensuring the victory of Palin against her Democrat opponent, Mary Peltola. But Begich let that opportunity pass, lured by polls that show him eventually winning under ranked choice voting as long as he can surpass Palin for second place.
That’s because Palin’s voters are loyal Republicans and would be expected to put down the other Republican (Begich) as their second choice, whereas Begich’s voters are closet Democrats who would just as soon have liberal Peltola in office than have a disrupter like Palin shatter political norms.
So now, instead of just campaigning for votes in the general election and sailing to victory against Peltola and perhaps a third-party candidate, Palin has to divert her attention to strategies that convince Republicans they are being played by Democrats in a long con – intended to diminish their power and dilute their vote.
On second thought, maybe this is politics as usual.
Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell Mont., is a columnist for RealClearPolitics. His new book, “What Matters Most: God, Country, Family and Friends,” is available from his Amazon author page. Visit him at HeartlandDiaryUSA.com or follow him on Facebook @HeartlandDiaryUSA or on Twitter or Gettr @HeartlandDiary.