Update: The Senate version of the SAFE Act, introduced July 23, 2019 by Senator (and presidential candidate) Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) also retains the provision requiring voting equipment purchased with funding provided by the bill be ready to run ranked choice voting elections.
Ranked choice voting is garnering more allies in Congress. One measure of progress is when it becomes a part of broader bills designed to improve elections.
Election administration practices vary enormously from place to place - states, counties and municipalities across the country all have a role in decision making around how we vote and how those votes get counted. However, there are some minimum standards at the federal level - for instance, voting must include accessibility options for people with disabilities, it must allow military and overseas voters to participate in federal elections, and so on.
Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to add a new set of minimum standards with a focus on election security: Securing America's Federal Elections Act or the SAFE Act, H.R. 2722.
In a sense, the House already passed this bill. The Election Security Act was one of the titles in the sweeping election reform bill, H.R. 1. After H.R. 1 passed the House but stalled in the Senate, its sponsors began the process of breaking out its component parts into their own bills and introducing them one at a time.
Importantly, the Election Security Act retains a provision from H.R. 1 that helps advance the movement for ranked choice voting. The bill provides funding for states to help them adopt new voting equipment meeting the new security standards. In the conditions on that funding, it states that all such equipment purchased must be ready to run ranked choice voting elections:
ABILITY OF REPLACEMENT SYSTEMS TO ADMINISTER RANKED CHOICE ELECTIONS.--To the greatest extent practicable, an eligible State which receives a grant to replace a voting system under this section shall ensure that the replacement system is capable of administering a system of ranked choice voting under which each voter shall rank the candidates for the office in the order of the voter’s preference.
This ranked choice voting provision makes sense in any legislation that establishes guidelines for new voting equipment and makes particular sense for a bill designed to secure elections from outside “hackers.” Ranked choice voting can be administered with the highest levels of security, and it’s best to build those security measures in from the start We’ve also seen how antiquated voting rules are vulnerable to certain kinds of strategic “hacks” - strong candidates trying to affect who their runoff opponent will be through gaming of the first round vote, for example, and promoting minor party candidates in plurality voting elections with the sole purpose of dividing the vote with a “spoiler,” as Russian agents tried to do in our 2016 elections.
The latest voting equipment from all of the major voting equipment vendors can run ranked choice voting elections, including with an auditable and accessible paper ballot system. However, election administrators are often underfunded and underserved, and as a result, many jurisdictions still use legacy equipment already past its expected lifespan. The Election Security Act of 2019 would ensure that nowhere would be left behind when it comes to election security and accessibility, and that nowhere that wanted to improve their democracy with ranked choice voting would have to wait for funding to do so.