Law & Principles

Ray Carter | March 14, 2024

House approves ban on ranked-choice voting

Ray Carter

Under legislation winning strong approval in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, state elections could not shift to a “ranked choice” model that has caused significant problems in other states.

House Bill 3156, by state Rep. Eric Roberts, would ban the use of ranked-choice voting in Oklahoma.

In a ranked-choice election, voters cast ballots to designate their first choice in a race, their second choice, and so on down the ballot. If no candidate receives majority support, the second-choice votes of the candidate who finishes last are reallocated to the remaining candidates. If no candidate clears 50 percent of the vote, the process repeats again and again until one candidate has received a majority.

During a legislative study conducted last September, experts warned Oklahoma lawmakers that ranked-choice voting would eliminate swift tabulation of election results and also make manual recounts impossible because of the many ballots involved and the complexity of tabulating results.

The process of tabulating ranked-choice election results can take weeks. In one ranked-choice election conducted in Alameda County, California, a tabulation error allowed the wrong candidate to be declared the victor. The mistake was eventually uncovered by outside reviewers, but it took months to place the actual election winner in office.

Democratic lawmakers objected to banning ranked-choice voting in Oklahoma.

State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, said state officials should not dictate how local elections are conducted in Oklahoma, and asked “why this body should be taking away local control for counties or municipalities that might want to do something like this?”

Roberts, R-Oklahoma City, noted that Oklahoma elections are operated on a uniform state system to keep things simple and transparent, and said allowing separate systems would also increase costs.

“Let’s just pick a random city, say, Norman. Norman decides they’re going to do ranked-choice voting,” Roberts said. “Okay, what happens if we have a state election too (on the same day)? They’re going to have to operate two different kinds of voting.”

Supporters noted that where ranked-choice voting has been tried, it has proven very unpopular. The state of Alaska adopted ranked-choice voting and used it in state elections for the first time in 2022. An initiative petition recently obtained enough signatures to put repeal of ranked-choice voting in Alaska on the ballot next November.

Utah has tried ranked-choice voting on a limited, pilot-project basis in roughly two dozen towns and cities. About half of participating cities have dropped out due to the problems caused by ranked-choice voting, supporters of HB 3156 noted.

State Rep. Mark Tedford, R-Tulsa, noted that ranked-choice voting “has been found to significantly increase the number of spoiled ballots” in elections due to the increased voter confusion the lengthy ballots create.

HB 3156 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 63-16 vote. The bill now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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