OKLAHOMA CITY — A Republican state senator wants to ban ranked choice voting in Oklahoma amid national GOP pushback to the voting method being implemented in some cities and states.
Ahead of the legislative session that begins Feb. 5, Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, filed Senate Bill 1610 to prevent the State Election Board and county election boards from implementing ranked choice voting in any elections.
The election method in which a voter ranks all the candidates in each race as opposed to just selecting their top choice is not being used in Oklahoma elections, but Daniels said she’s being proactive.
“I do not believe that Oklahoma voters want such a system here,” she said. “Our election system is not built to do ranked choice voting, so we would have to overhaul our system in order to accommodate it.”
Proponents of ranked choice voting say it can reduce negative campaigning, eliminate the need for Oklahoma’s runoff primary elections and help elect more centrist candidates while also giving independent voters a greater voice at the ballot box.
During a September legislative hearing, State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said switching to a ranked choice voting system could cost the state tens of millions of dollars because current voting machines and other elections equipment isn’t compatible.
At least 50 localities, cities and states use some form of ranked choice voting in their elections, according to FairVote, a nonprofit group that backs the method. Maine and Alaska have both faced some pushback on using ranked choice voting since the states implemented the system for major elections.
Daniels alleged Democrats are pushing ranked choice voting to help members of their party get elected. She said the method helps Democrats who may not be able to win an election outright in a winner-take-all system.
In a ranked choice voting process, election officials count first-choice votes on Election Day. If no candidate wins a majority, then the candidate who got the fewest votes is eliminated and their supporters’ votes are awarded to their second-choice candidates. That process continues until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.
“Ranked choice voting is a strategy of the left to make sure that those candidates they believe to be extreme will not prevail,” Daniels said. “But you’re replacing them with candidates who could not have achieved a majority on their own.”
Cindy Alexander, a volunteer with Rank the Vote Oklahoma, a nonprofit that advocates for ranked choice voting, said Daniels’ bill is “part of the National Republican Playbook.”
Conservative groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Foundation for Government Accountability, which Daniels said she consulted when crafting this bill, are among those pushing for bans on ranked choice voting.
Alexander said ranked choice voting can improve elections by ensuring the winning candidate gets support from a majority of voters. In some elections where there are more than two candidates on the ballot, the winner may not clinch a majority of the votes.
Ranked choice voting also can reduce the amount of negative campaigning because candidates are incentivized to run civil campaigns so they don’t upset a challenger’s supporters, she said.
Alexander said she expected GOP lawmakers to try and ban ranked choice voting this year after they held an interim study on the topic in September.
The measure runs counter to principles of local control, she said.
“Nobody thinks (ranked choice voting) is going to come to the whole state of Oklahoma, at least not anytime soon,” Alexander said. “But there’s no reason to not allow a city to use it if they want to.”
Alexander acknowledged ranked choice voting isn’t possible with the state’s existing elections infrastructure. But Oklahoma will have to replace its voting machines soon due to their age. Most new machines are capable of processing ranked choice ballots, she said.
Alexander said she’s hopeful Daniels’ bill doesn’t advance in the Oklahoma Legislature.
At least five GOP-led states have banned ranked choice voting.
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