Kansas Democrats are moving to ranked choice voting

If you’re a Kansas Democrat looking forward to the big primary battle next year you’ll probably notice a couple of minor changes. Okay… I lied. They’re not minor at all. First of all, if the plan recently submitted to the DNC is approved and implemented, you’re not going to have a caucus next year at all as you’ve been doing for decades. You’ll be switching over to a normal primary election.

Okay… I lied again. It’s not a “normal” primary in the sense of how most of the rest of the country runs a primary. You’ll be asked to fill out a ranked choice ballot. In addition to voting for your favorite candidate, you’ll be asked (though not forced) to fill out a second choice, third choice, fourth choice, etc. (Kansas.com)

Last week, the state party submitted its plan to the Democratic National Committee to ditch Kansas’ traditional caucus system in favor of a primary election with ranked-choice voting.

Kansas Democratic Chairwoman Vicki Hyatt said she thinks the new system will make it easier to vote and increase Democratic turnout. “I’m hoping it will generate a lot of energy,” she said.

It won’t be an official state-run election, but it will have more of the trappings of one than the previous caucus process — which has been used since 1992 to divvy up delegates between Democratic candidates.

It appears, in the opinion of yours truly, that the Kansas state Democratic Party is opting to remove one problem and insert another one instead. As regular readers likely already know, I’m not a fan of either of the systems involved in this switch.

Ditching the caucus system is, as I see it, a good thing. I know some of you, particularly in the smaller states, love your caucuses and defend the tradition. But let’s face it… they’re not terribly democratic. It strictly limits the times when people can participate and it forces them to stand up in front of their fellow community members and declare their choice. And that’s true even if one of the other people is your boss who supports a different candidate. So switching to a primary with secret ballots and generous voting hours is a plus.

But this ranked choice ballot detracts from the change because it’s such a sketchy way to handle the counting of the votes. Just look at the history of the recent change to ranked choice voting in Maine and how many courts went back and forth on whether it was even legal.

And even if you accept that ranked choice is constitutional, that doesn’t make it good. The system supposedly ensures a majority instead of a plurality for the winner, but so what? Who says you have to have a majority? And this new system doesn’t really give someone a majority anyway. Each candidate gets however many first choice votes they received but then they get the second choice votes of people whose first selection was the least popular candidate. It’s just a mess.

Then again, as a Defense Secretary once famously said, sometimes Democracy is messy. Kansas can go ahead and make this change and see how the people like it. Just don’t try to force it on the rest of us, please.

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