Laurie Roberts for the Arizona Republic
Opinion: Arizona's most fanatical lawmakers are panicking over the prospect of Arizona moving to ranked choice voting. OK, so maybe it's not such a bad idea.
Comes now the best argument yet for Arizona voters to demand a fundamental change in the way we elect our leaders.
The Legislature’s bumper crop of far-right fanatics on Wednesday expressed their absolute terror at the prospect that voters might want to scrap our system of partisan primaries and move to ranked choice voting.
The Arizona Freedom Caucus is even trying to pass a new state law to try to preemptively prevent voters from making the change.
Arizona's partisan primary no longer fits
“Ranked Choice Voting is an unmitigated disaster,” warned Rep. Austin Smith, R-Wittman, in a news release put out by the Freedom Caucus.
“Ranked choice voting … should be called rigged choice voting,” declared Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, in the group’s news conference. “Because it disenfranchises voters and allows marginal candidates not supported by a majority of the voters to win elections.”
Or put another way, ranked choice voting may very well ensure that extremists can’t get elected, giving Arizona a shot at a centrist Legislature that’s more in keeping with the majority of the state’s voters.
Wouldn’t that be novel?
With fully a third of state’s voters now registered independent, it’s clearly time to get rid of the taxpayer-funded partisan primary system that allows a minority of Republican and Democratic voters to dictate who is on the November ballot. (There’s a reason why so many pine for a none-of-the-above option, come November.)
The question is: What should replace that outdated system?
Ranked choice voting could pop up in 2024
Two groups, Save Democracy Arizona and Voter Choice Arizona, are exploring the idea of how to best open up our primary elections.
I’ve long supported a top-two primary, modeled after the system used by cities where every candidate is on one ballot and the top two vote getters progress to a runoff.
But it appears the reform that’ll make its way to the 2024 ballot will be ranked choice voting.
In the few states that use it, voters rank the candidates in their order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority vote in the first round of counting, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the second-choice votes of those who supported that candidate are then reassigned to the rest of the field.
The process continues until someone wins a majority.
How the system has played out in other states
Maine moved to a ranked choice voting system in 2018, resulting in the election of Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, even after former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin had the most first-choice votes in the initial round of counting.
When the second- and then third-choice votes of those who had supported the other two candidates (both independents) were reassigned, Golden won.
Alaska voters used ranked choice voting for the first time in 2022, electing Democrat Mary Peltola over Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.
Nevada voters in November took a first step toward establishing ranked choice voting and in Arizona, you can expect to see initiative petitions hit the street this summer, hoping to put the issue before voters in 2024.
No wonder the Freedom Caucus is fighting it
The very idea has sent a chill through the ranks of the Republican Party in general and the Arizona Freedom Caucus in particular. And for good reason.
The system would give every Arizona voter an equal voice in deciding who makes the November ballot. In other words, the candidates who can attract broad support would advance, as opposed to our current system which favors extremists.
And that, of course, is why the Freedom Caucus is raising the alarm and even running bills – Kern’s Senate Bill 1265 and Smith’s House Bill 2552 – to try to stop it.
They say ranked choice voting is just too complicated, erodes the principle of one-man one-vote, and will lead to “leftist leaders”.
“This,” Kern cried at Wednesday's press conference, “will only lead to chaos.”
“This,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, declared, in her inevitable plea for funds sent out on Thursday morning, “is an existential problem. We must fight this at all costs!”
I don’t know. The more they panic, the more ranked choice voting is sounding pretty good to me.