I like ranked-choice voting. Counting voters’ second and so on preferences past their first choices captures a more reliable picture of the popular will, weeds out extremists, and gives us math nerds a chance to make elections more fun and save democracy.
But ranked-choice voting opponent Scott Ehrisman pokes at the local example his fellow Sioux Falls blogger Joe Kirby uses to justify adopting ranked-choice voting in the Queen City of the East.
Kirby argues that the 2010 Sioux Falls mayoral election produced a flawed outcome. Kirby contends that the majority of Sioux Falls voters wanted a moderate establishment Republican mayor, but the presence of three candidates fitting that bill split the majority vote and vaulted two minority candidates, conservative city councilman Kermit Staggers and Democratic usurer Mike Huether, into a run-off that left most voters unhappy:
In the non-partisan 2010 city election, there were five viable candidates to replace Mayor Dave Munson. Three mainstream candidates, Bill Peterson, Vernon Brown and Pat Costello, all had strong establishment credentials and were well thought of in the community. Any of them would have likely been a popular winner.
The other two candidates in the race were Kermit Staggers and the lone Democrat, Mike Huether. Huether was less familiar to many, but Staggers was a well-known character with an unconventionally frugal approach to public spending.
On election day, the three moderate candidates split 50% of the vote between them. But that was not good enough. One fourth of the vote went to Staggers while the remaining one fourth, perhaps mostly Democrats, went to Huether. The top two vote getters, Huether and Staggers, moved on.
…In the end, the lone Democrat beat four strong Republicans in the 2010 mayor’s race. That is a surprising outcome. One could argue that 75% of voters did not get what they wanted from this election. The 50% who wanted a moderate Republican didn’t get one of their favorites. And the 25% supporting the very conservative candidate lost outright [Joe Kirby, “The Problem with Sioux Falls Elections,” Sioux Falls Joe, 2022.10.25].
Would ranked-choice voting have changed this outcome? Ehrisman, a Staggers campaigner, says no way:
Peterson hardly had a campaign, Costello wasn’t really that well known and had ties to business and development and Vernon just didn’t spend the money needed. Staggers and Huether were in the runoff because they campaigned the most, period. There wasn’t some conspiracy that got them into the top 2 spots. Staggers lost in the end because Huether spent 2x the money and stole Kermit’s best ideas (funding the EC and snowgates). Huether also hired one of the best campaign strategists money could buy, and to this day, I blame him more for Huether’s election than some complicated rigged election system. Our election system is broke in Sioux Falls, I would agree 100%, but it has to do with where the money is coming from to fund these campaigns and how those campaigns are won. The last election was further proof that money and connections are what win elections, not based on how those are elections are run. Just run the numbers and you will see that there has been a massive push to get the SE part of the town to vote, and they did, while the rest of the city sat it out [Scott Ehrisman, comment to Kirby, 2022.10.25].
Ranked-choice voting won’t help candidates who don’t raise money and their profile. Ranked-choice voting also won’t save candidates from brutal, big-dollar onslaughts from their opponents. Ranked-choice voting might have reordered the runners-up in the Sioux Falls 2010 election, but high-dollar, high-profile Huether, whose Chamber of Commerce credentials outweighed any sense that he was distinctly more liberal than the Republicans on the nonpartisan 2010 mayoral ballot, still would have drawn a lot of second-choice votes from Brown, Costello, and Peterson voters, ensuring he would have only built on his lead in first-place votes.