Georgia elections chief floats ranked-choice voting, despite counting delays, transparency concerns

Alaska and Maine are the only two states that have ranked-choice voting for statewide elections.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger holds a press conference on the status of ballot counting on November 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is suggesting his state move to ranked-choice voting for general elections to avoid runoff elections, despite the counting delays plaguing ranked-choice voting states and the potential for transparency issues.

Raffensperger told the New York Times last week that he would propose a ranked-choice voting system to state legislators to avoid runoff elections. Another change he suggested in the Times interview is to lower from 50% to 45% the minimum share of votes candidates must reach to avoid a runoff.

On Wednesday, Raffensperger called for an end to runoff elections in the state.

"Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a General Election Runoff," he said in a statement Wednesday. "We're also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. I'm calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the General Election Runoff and consider reforms."

"No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday," Raffensperger argued. "It's even tougher on the counties who had a difficult time completing all of their deadlines, an election audit and executing a runoff in a four-week time period."

With ranked-choice voting, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then an instant-runoff system is triggered.

When voters cast their ballots, they rank each candidate in order of first choice to last. In the event that the 50% plus-one vote threshold isn't reached by a candidate, then the candidate with the least amount of first-choice votes is eliminated and that candidate's voters' second-choice votes are reallocated among the remaining candidates and tallied, which continues until a candidate receives the majority of the vote.

Raffensperger's ranked-choice voting proposal comes after Alaska held its first ranked-choice election this year, which wasn't decided until two weeks after Election Day. The races for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Mary Peltola (D) weren't tabulated until Nov. 23. Murkowski trailed slightly behind Trump-backed Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka on Nov. 18 at 43.11%, to Tshibaka's 43.28%, with 95% of the ballots counted.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who lost to Peltola in the congressional race, signed a petition to end the state's ranked-choice voting, which was enacted after being approved in a 2020 ballot measure.

In the week leading up to the announcement of the results for her race, Palin called the voting system "whack" and said she would "fight for what's right and to lead the rest of the nation in getting back to fair, free, transparent, clear elections."

Alaska and Maine are the only two states that use ranked-choice voting in statewide races.

In Maine's election, the results were announced eight days after Election Day.

Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project, told Just the News on Wednesday that ranked-choice voting causes "significant confusion in voters" and allows parties without a majority to influence elections. He added that it "makes the election less transparent," which is very "concerning."

"Imagine trying to audit a ranked-choice election, especially with a lack of transparency," Kline said, adding that "laws aren't set up for it."

Many nonprofits are pushing the idea of ranked-choice voting, and they are "in many ways running the election system," said the former Kansas attorney general, particularly since the 2020 election, when nonprofits funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg granted more than $400 million to municipalities, ostensibly to administer their elections.

Kline noted that ranked-choice voting "is a problem" and that Raffensperger hasn't fixed the problems that were found by the audit of the 2020 election in Georgia.

Responding to requests for comment, Ratffensperger's office told Just the News on Thursday that the secretary of state "has not endorsed a specific policy proposal over any other. This will all be up to the General Assembly."

Hogan Gidley, vice chair of the Center for Election Integrity at the America First Policy Institute, told Just the News on Wednesday, "We are going after it hardcore," and that counter legislation would be provided to state lawmakers as soon as possible.

In an October report on ranked-choice voting, AFPI noted that left-leaning nonprofit FairVote advocates ranked-choice voting, claiming it's not confusing and incentivizes candidates to target a wider voter base.

However, according to AFPI, ranked-choice voting "prolongs the elections process," and "the voter does not have the ability to explicitly say who they would like to win compared to the other candidates because they do not know until after their only ballot is cast which candidates will be eliminated and which will remain."