Op-Ed on Ranked Choice Voting

Submitted by Edmund Ford, Jr., Ed.D. 
Work Daze

May 15, 2018

Dear Editorial Board,

In 2008, Memphis, Tennessee adopted Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as a method to elect our Council Members. In the past 10 years, we have found that Ranked Choice Voting has proven to be a failure. It did not accomplish any of the promises of the Charter Commission that proposed this new method of voting. It was passed in a low turnout election. Ranked Choice Voting has since been shown to reduce voter turnout and disenfranchise minority and elderly voters. The elderly and lower income voters make more mistakes which can invalidate or spoil their ballot. This Ranked Choice Voting experiment has been a complete mistake.

This year, the Memphis City Council unanimously voted to put a ballot measure to repeal Ranked Choice Voting on the November 2018 ballot so citizens can re-evaluate the system after 10 years. The Memphis NAACP voted to reject Ranked Choice Voting by a vote of 19-6, mostly based upon the studies that have shown that it can discriminate against minorities. One NAACP official stated that Ranked Choice Voting was like the dreaded “poll tax”. The ACLU rejected a recent plea to endorse Ranked Choice Voting, stating “RCV exacerbates economic and racial disparities in voting. Voting errors and spoiled ballots occur far more often. In Minneapolis, for example, nearly 10% of ranked choice ballots were not counted, mostly surrounding low-income communities of color.” As an African American, and one of the youngest ever elected to the city council, I find this systematic voter discrimination unconscionable. Ranked Choice Voting is really “voter suppression” under another name.

Memphis believed the Ranked Choice Voting hype in 2008, and now many regret it. Santa Clara residents should not buy into this voting scheme and should vote against Measure A. Measure A in Santa Clara is being pushed by out-of-state elites and interest groups. While Memphis is nearly 2,000 miles from Santa Clara, I wish someone would have warned us about Ranked Choice Voting 10 years ago. So I’m writing to warn you.

With Ranked Choice Voting, and the proposed Single Transferable Vote for Council Members, Santa Clara would be using TWO different systems to elect their representatives. With the Single Transferable Vote, your vote may get transferred to another candidate, without you knowing. A mathematical algorithm determines where your vote goes. It’s no longer “one person, one vote”. Page 2 Letter to the Editorial Board

So, your vote may not go to the candidate of your choice. How is this possible? A 2014 study by two university professors, Craig Burnett and Vladimir Kogan, outlined the significant flaws of Ranked Choice Voting, with many people having their ballots tossed aside and not counted. Ranked Choice Voting gives people three, four, five or fifteen votes depending upon how it is set up. I understand the Santa Clara City Council has not decided on the rules yet. Votes can be shuffled to various candidates, depending upon how the ballot was filled out. If you don’t fill out the ballot correctly your vote will be redistributed without your knowledge or thrown out. That is not true democracy. Prof. Jason McDaniel, of San Francisco State University, published research in the Journal of Urban Affairs stating “some minority groups were particularly disadvantaged by the RCV process, with correlations between overrates and both foreign-born voters and those with a primary language other than English”. Put another way, if you weren’t born here, and English is not your first language, RCV can and will discriminate against you. This is wrong in every aspect.

Choice Voting was also promoted as saving money, but costs associated with using the system have skyrocketed, requiring public education on how to vote using the new mathematical counting formula. One city spent nearly $17 per voter for RCV education in two languages on this “experimental” voting system. Santa Clara has a population of over 120,000 people, and need to educate in up to six languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Hindi. That’s a lot of wasted money that could be used for other services, like parks, libraries, community centers and public safety. As a City Council Member, I can appreciate not having to spend additional money on a flawed voting system.

I understand Santa Clara is looking to improve its minority representation on their city council. I appreciate that. But using Ranked Choice Voting to accomplish this misses the mark due to fatal flaws in the system and its discriminatory nature. I just wish someone from 2,000 miles away would have warned us 10 years ago. We wouldn’t have to have a repeal on our ballot.


A little bit about me: I was elected to the Memphis City Council in 2007, and currently still serve on that body. I have degrees in Mathematical Sciences from Tennessee State University, two years of doctoral study in Leadership and Policy Studies from Vanderbilt University, and a doctorate in Higher Education Administration and Supervision from Tennessee State University.


Edmund Ford, Jr., Ed.D.