For the past few weeks, millions of voters across the country—in Super Tuesday and March 2020 states like Texas, California, Minnesota, and Washington—have been casting early ballots for their preferred candidates in the presidential primary. Now, with the surprise exodus of Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar from the race following the South Carolina primary, those who had already cast ballots for these candidates are crying foul.
They voted early for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar in Texas. Now some feel like they threw their votes away.— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) March 2, 2020
"We need ranked-choice voting," said one early voter.#tx2020 #TexasPrimary https://t.co/jziDj6aStr
More a million votes were “lost” on these “zombie candidates” on Super Tuesday alone, mostly from early ballots—meaning the voices and preferences of large swaths of voters are now rendered moot.
In fact, according to the New York Times live tracker, more than 816,000 votes cast on Super Tuesday for candidates who dropped out have already been counted. The Times estimates that, when all of the Super Tuesday ballots are finally counted, the "lost vote" total will eclipse 1.1 million votes.
Behind each of these votes is the voice of a voter who cared enough about this historic election to make sure their vote was cast early. It’s similar to the more than 600,000 Republican voters who cast votes for withdrawn candidates in 2016 when that nomination contest was still contested.
As a sidenote, FairVote will be tracking these “lost votes” throughout the primary season. Check this page for the latest total.
With Buttigieg & Klobuchar joining Steyer, I wouldn’t be surprised if close to a million votes tomorrow went to candidates who have dropped out. Can anyone question the value of ranked choice voting for early voters at a minimum? https://t.co/aHdvCetPvv— Rob Richie (@Rob_Richie) March 2, 2020
The problem isn’t early voting itself, which allows the participation of many voters who might otherwise be shut out from the process. The problem is the lack of choice voters have—and there is a way to fix that: ranked choice voting (RCV).
As FairVote President and CEO Rob Richie and FairVote Senior Fellow David Daley explain in a Salon op-ed, “RCV is a simple fix with a big impact: Voters rank their favorite candidates in order, one, two, three. If your first choice drops out, the candidate doesn't lurk on the ballot like a vote-munching zombie from "The Walking Dead," denying you of a meaningful vote simply because you exercised your right to vote early. In that scenario, your vote simply moves to your next choice. It's not only common sense, it makes our elections more fair and functional.”
To illuminate this scenario, let us use the examples of Ohio and Kansas.
According to The Akron Beacon-Journal, early voting for Ohio’s March 17 primary began Feb. 19. Seven candidates who have currently withdrawn from the race appear on the ballot—meaning, if any Ohio voters cast ballots for those candidates, their votes will basically be void. “It’s a wasted vote,” according to Summit County Board of Elections Chair Bill Rich.
Contrast that with Kansas, which already has its ballot order set for its May 2 primary. Despite the fact that four of the eight candidates who will appear on the Kansas ballot have already withdrawn, Kansans needn’t worry about “wasting” their vote.
Why? Their primary will be conducted via ranked choice voting. If a Kansas voter decides to rank Pete Buttigieg first and Bernie Sanders second, her vote for Buttigieg will simply move to Sanders—as long as Buttigieg does not achieve 15 percent support (enough to accrue delegates, per DNC rules) at the state or congressional district level.
Ranked choice voting guarantees Kansas voters will have a say in the primary process, allows voters to vote their conscience, and ensures no votes are “lost.” The same will be true for the April 4th primary states of Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming, all of which are using RCV ballots. We hope that, in 2024, both parties will realize the range of benefits RCV provides in selecting a nominee.
It’s heartbreaking that more than 1 million early voter votes are likely to be cast for withdrawn presidential candidates, just as more than a half million GOP voters’ voices were lost in 2016.— Rob Richie (@Rob_Richie) March 3, 2020
In 2024, make all votes count with ranked choice voting.https://t.co/c5iDPifVS8