Please Don't Ban Voting Reform!

Dear Governor Parson and Missouri Legislators,

The Equal Vote Coalition is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to fighting for true equality in the vote itself. On the heels of the news that a 6th state has now banned Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), we got news about yet another alternative voting ban, HJR 104, that has already passed the House of Representatives in Missouri. 

While we strongly oppose the passage of Ranked Choice Voting, we do strongly support Approval Voting, the fair, science-backed, and user friendly voting method used in St Louis. We call on the Missouri Senate to please amend HJR 104 to describe and specify Ranked Choice Voting as the target of the bill. Currently it is only named in the summary, but RCV does comply with the added requirement that voters have one vote only, so this alone does not outlaw it.

Recommended Amendment: 

In Section 3, strike: "Voters shall have only a single vote for each issue on which such voter is eligible to vote. Voters shall have the same number of votes for an office as the number of open seats to be elected to such office at that election." and, if desired, replace it with "No voting method shall be permitted in which validly cast ballots are "exhausted" and excluded from the deciding round of vote tabulation.

In the summary of Section B, replace: "Prohibit elections through the ranking of candidates" with "Prohibit elections though "Instant Runoff Voting," whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference, and in the event that one candidate fails to achieve a majority, the candidate with the fewest number of first-preference rankings is eliminated and these votes redistributed, the process being repeated until one candidate achieves a majority of remaining non-exhausted ballots."

After amending the HRJ 104 we ask you to please vote no when the bill comes to a vote. Even though we oppose RCV, banning it would be redundant with Missouri's existing constitution, which already prohibits both RCV and non-citizen voting. Doing so would only serve to overrule voters who have adopted and been largely happy with Approval Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting is already unconstitutional in Missouri for two separate reasons:

1. The Missouri constitution, like many other state constitutions requires that the candidate with the most votes wins. "The persons having the highest number of votes for the respective offices shall be declared elected." MO Constitution, Article 4, Section 18. 

RCV fails this because the first round finds the candidate with the most votes, but the system proceeds with multiple tabulation rounds until one candidate has a majority of remaining votes. This does not comply with laws requiring majority winners or laws requiring "most votes wins" Plurality winners. 

2. The Missouri constitution, like many other state constitutions, includes an equal opportunity clause."...that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design." MO Constitution, Article 1, Section 2

In RCV's tabulation rounds, some voters whose favorite is eliminated will not have have their next choice counted, while others will. This fundamentally treats the votes of some voters differently from others and is the reason RCV can elect candidates who were not preferred over the others.

RCV fails both of these constitutional requirements by design.

If the bill does pass the legislature: 

If the bill does come to your desk Governor Parson, we urge you to follow the lead of North Dakota Governor Burgum and veto the bill on the grounds that it would be a government overreach. Here's what North Dakota's Governor Parson had to say when faced with a similar dilemma:

“House Bill 1273 undermines local control of local political subdivisions exercising their granted powers under home rule charter, specifically prohibiting using an Approval Voting method or Ranked-Choice Voting method in local elections," Governor Burgum said in his veto statement.

"Fargo is the only city in North Dakota that uses Approval Voting. It was adopted in 2018. Ranked-choice voting is not used by any political subdivision in North Dakota." "If we truly believe in limited government and local control, we can begin by honoring the boundaries, intent and spirit of home rule charters, especially when there is no evidence of any harm having occurred from trusting the residents of cities to have self-determination within the bounds of their home rule charters.” 

For those of you following voting reform, St. Louis, Missouri is the largest city to currently use Approval Voting, and the proposed ban would not only ban RCV, but would also repeal Approval Voting. The Equal Vote Coalition strongly supports Approval voting as a fair and important option for electoral reform, and we strongly support the right of the citizens of St. Louis to continue to use it if they so choose.

While we understand and validate Conservatives real concerns with Ranked Choice Voting regarding wasted votes and unrepresentative outcomes, as seen in Alaska (Read our new article on what happened in Alaska here.) Approval does not have RCV's exhausted ballots issues, voter error issues, logistical issues, complexity issues, or RCV's built in biases. Approval Voting was specifically proposed and adopted to offer voters an alternative to the outdated and problematic RCV system. 

Approval Voting is not Ranked Choice:

Undermining Approval Voting, the leading competitor to Ranked Choice, would actually strengthen the Ranked Choice monopoly, not weaken it as intended.

Approval Voting is conservative upgrade to the current system. It's simple, transparent, auditable, has no delays for tabulation, and most importantly, it ensures that every vote is equally powerful, the gold standard legal definition of One Person, One Vote. (Unlike RCV.) Under Approval Voting the candidate with the most votes does win! We urge Missouri legislators to leave Approval Voting out of the crossfire.

RCV Backlash because of Alaska:

In Alaska, Ranked Choice advocates claimed that RCV eliminated vote-splitting and that the spoiler effect was solved, (it's not). Believing these claims, Republicans ran two Republican candidates (Begich and Peltola) in one general election for US House. Voters were told it was safe to vote honestly, (which is not true since RCV only mitigates the vote-splitting problem and doesn't eliminate lesser-evil voting incentives.) As we now know, Palin and Begich split the Republican 60% majority and both candidates lost to Mary Peltola, the Democrat. While vote-splitting is a problem in the old system as well, it's transparent enough that voters usually correctly navigate the strategic incentives to prevent Spoilers in high profile elections. RCV is not transparent.

Approval Voting on the other hand is extremely transparent, it's always safe to vote for your favorite, and it fully eliminates the Spoiler Effect/vote-splitting issue, ensuring winners actually represent the will of the people.


Sara Wolk,
Executive Director of the Equal Vote Coalition