Voters are adopting tactics to thwart Ranked-Choice Voting

A review of this month’s Minneapolis mayoral election shows voters gaming the RCV system. Earlier this week, the Star Tribune reported on some interesting analyses of this year’s election, which used the Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) system.

This voting method, which invites, but does not require, voters to select up to three candidates for each office, was used for the fourth time in Minneapolis. A record number of other Minnesota municipalities used RCV for voting this year.

Although RCV appears to push politics toward the extreme in localities dominated by one party, its advocates tout RCV’s ability to build broad coalitions and discourage negative campaigning. Voters, however, appear to have caught on.

The Star Tribune reports that one in five voters (27,000), without any official encouragement from his campaign, failed to list any candidate on their ballots other than the incumbent mayor, Jacob Frey. This “bullet ballot” approach carries some benefits for the frontrunner. With many of Frey’s voters not picking any alternates, the third-place candidate was eliminated after the first round. The lesson here is, if you support the leading candidates, ranking others only serves to keep them viable.

The second and third-place finishers, with the support of local Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, had taken the opposite approach, asking their supporters to rank any candidate other than Frey. This negative campaigning approach works against the building of broader coalitions sought by RCV.

In the end, the Star Tribune reports that somewhat fewer voters (20,000) took the “anyone but Frey” approach, ranking his top two competitors first and second, and leaving the third-place slot blank. Of the total 144,000 votes cast for mayor, about half of voters left one or two slots blank.

Ironically, little of this gamesmanship mattered in the end. Only the alternative choices of eliminated candidates play in later rounds. The alternate choices (or none) of the leading two contenders are never factored into the final totals.

Even as Ranked-Choice Voting seeks to change the landscape of politics and voting, candidates and voters alike seem to be finding workarounds within the new system.