Posted by Emily Risch on March 12, 2020 at 10:11 AM

Nearly 2 Million Votes Cast For Dropout Candidates in Presidential Primaries
Without Ranked Choice Voting, Early Voting Orphans Millions of Voices;
Four Upcoming Democratic Primaries Showcase a Better Way

Takoma Park, MD; March 11, 2020 – FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for electoral reform in the United States, reports today that 1,637,271 Americans have officially cast votes for Democratic presidential candidates who had withdrawn from the race before their state’s primary. This number does not include another 300,000 estimated lost votes yet to be recorded by primary states once their tallies are complete. By the end of March, FairVote expects this number could swell to up to three million votes “wasted” by early voters on dropped out candidates. In 2016, more than 600,000 Republican presidential primary voters experienced the same loss of voting power.  

Early voters were uniquely impacted by single-choice ballots due to their preferred candidates dropping out after they had already mailed in ballots. Polling place challenges created by the Coronavirus are only the latest reasons for voters to be able to vote early or by mail, but it makes it much more likely that voters will cast a ballot for withdrawn candidates. With two-third of votes reported, more than a third of all votes (some 340,000 so far) in Washington State were counted for such candidates.

“Many voters face an unfair choice: the ballot box or the abyss,” shared Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote. “Americans should be given the opportunity to vote for the candidates they believe should be president, not just the ones they believe will stay in the race.”

This year Democrats in four states are showcasing a better way in their presidential primaries by implementing ranked choice voting for the first time: Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii. Ranked choice voting allows Americans to vote for their preferred candidates without fear that their ballot will be discarded if their chosen candidate drops out of the race. Instead, voters will have the choice to rank candidates in order of preference. If their preferred candidate withdraws from the race or fails to receive a substantial number of votes, the voter’s second candidate will receive their vote, and so on. 

“Many people, including myself, like to fill out and return their ballot as soon as they receive it,” commented Washington state representative Sharon Shemake. “That doesn’t work in an election where people drop out just days before ballots are due. A ranked choice voting ballot would have allowed people to vote at their leisure and make their preference for any candidate known, without having to make strategic decisions on who they thought people thousands of miles away would vote for.”

FairVote will update its “Wasted Vote Tracker” on a daily basis in March as part of a project where it also reports on voter turnout and cumulative vote totals for candidates. 

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