Cheryl Kagan’s Plan to Have Some Votes Count More than Others
Leave it to a Montgomery County Democratic Senator Cheryl Kagan to produce a bill to solve a problem that most people do not think exists. Kagan wants to end elections in which candidates can win with a plurality of votes, instead of a majority. Along with House sponsor Del. Eric Luedtke, Kagan wants to let Montgomery County implement a system of ranked choice voting to require, in effect, an instant run-off to find whose support reaches 50%.
Instead of just picking their top choice for an office, voters would make second, third or possibly fourth choices. If the top vote getter falls short of a majority, the election goes to another round. The support of voters preferring lower ranked candidates would be reallocated to other candidates until a candidate reaches 50%.
Kagan’s and Luedtke’s bills are an unsubtle jab at newly elected Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. Elrich won the six-way 2018 Democratic primary with just 29% of the vote. Kagan’s implicit contention could be that Elrich could not have amassed enough second and third choice votes from the runner-up candidates to have reached 50% under their system.
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The Washington Post reports that “researchers say the ranked-choice system can be confusing and increases ballot errors, leading to a higher number of votes being discounted. Studies show low-information voters and marginalized groups are at a disadvantage with ranked-choice voting, which can suppress turnout among specific racial groups.”[i]
Consider the last sentence, which is highlighted for emphasis.
Under the system, those voters not making second and third choices have their votes become worth less than those of voters who go to the trouble to mark additional choices.
Had a Republican made the exact same proposal as Kagan and Luedtke, they both would have stampeded to the media microphones in order to attack it as an attempt at voter suppression.
The Kagan ranked choice approach gets especially interesting were it applied statewide. Libertarian Party candidates routinely place third behind the major parties. If Libertarian voters made Republican candidates their second choice, then Republicans would gain ground.
This is hardly a far-fetched scenario. In 2014 no candidate in Congressional District 6 received a majority. If ranked voting been used, depending on how the third- party votes were reallocated, Dan Bongino and not John Delaney could have been elected.
Another ranked voting bill authored by Baltimore Delegate Brooke Lierman, would allow the Baltimore City Council to enact legislation that provides for an “Open Primary” with “Ranked Choice Voting.”[ii] [iii]
MDGOP Executive Director Patrick O’Keefe testified against the Lierman bill: “The Maryland Republican Party is strongly opposing House Bill 26. We have a variety of concerns ranging from legal to the impact it would have on voters…The ranked choice voting system is a convoluted way to try to avoid a run-off election. It is confusing to the average voter who vote for their favored candidates. We already see “voter exhaustion” where many skip down-ballot races.”
Regarding the Open Primary provision, O’Keefe said that “[t]his bill would be a violation of the first amendment rights of every state and local party in Maryland. Our elected central committees have been clear that they do not want open primaries. In 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on a case in Virginia that a mandatory open primary statute was unconstitutional as applied to the Republicans because it imposed a burden on their freedom to associate under the First Amendment.[iv] If passed, this bill would certainly be fought in court as there’s precedent when a state and/or local party does not agree to the system.”
Cheryl Kagan has touted herself as a potential Maryland State Senate President. Her choice of such a fringe issue as her legislative priority should give Marylanders a pause as to the results if she ever wielded the Maryland Senate gavel.
[iii] Students of Baltimore history will note the city’s ugly past efforts to manipulate election laws to disenfranchise voters. After Republican Lloyd Lowndes carried Baltimore to win the gubernatorial election in 1895 and when reform Republican Alcaeus Hooper became mayor of Baltimore, both with African-American support, the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a series of laws to inhibit black voter participation. In 1904, they removed all party labels from the ballot. But that still did not prevent blacks from voting Republican. Then, three separate disenfranchisement amendments were passed by the state legislature using the devices of literacy clauses, grandfather clauses, and property requirements to reduce the number of black voters. All three amendments were defeated in subsequent referendums. See “Black Republicans on the Baltimore City Council, 1890-1931” Suzanne Ellery Greene, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 74, No. 3, September,1979 ISSN 0025-4258. Greene draws extensively on Margaret Law Callcott, The Negro in Maryland Politics, 1870-1912, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1969) ISBN 10: 080181023X
[iv] See Miller v. Brown, 503 F. 3d 360 – 2007 – Court of Appeals, 4th http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/062334.P.pdf