Ranked Choice Voting Bill Gets Hours of Testimony

Opponents and Supporters Turned Out in Force


Yesterday a state senate committee heard hours of testimony about the proposed Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)  bill proposed by a group of bipartisan legislators led by Republicans in the state legislature. We wrote about it, talk radio is talking about it, and talking about it, and talking about it, and talking about it, and numerous concerned voters turned out to testify against it.  They were joined by the left-wing groups – in and out of state – supporting the bill, and even more – in and out of state – opponents, many of whom live in states where RCV has been implemented and have seen firsthand the negative impacts of the scheme.


Yes, It Is Ranked Choice Voting

The left invests a great deal of effort trying to change the words people are allowed to use, banning words all over the place. No more saying ‘master’ bedroom because it positively reeks of slavery and colonization and demonstrates racist white supremacy ideals. We can’t say ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ in state documents because those are such very outdated, confusing, imprecise, gendered words. We can’t say breastfeeding because some women, who we’re now supposed to call men, don’t identify with the breasts they use to feed babies they gestated in their male uterus.  We can’t call it plagiarism when it’s done by Harvard’s president.

Similarly, proponents of Ranked Choice Voting spent a lot of time saying we can’t call Ranked Choice Voting “Ranked Choice Voting,” claiming if Wisconsin voters are asked to vote by ranking their choices among candidates, that’s something else entirely.

Only it’s not something else. It’s Ranked Choice Voting.


Testimony from Authors

The testimony from supporters consisted of a litany of misinformation straight from the left’s playbook.

The bipartisan group of authors testified first, saying “the system” isn’t working and RCV will improve the character of elected representatives by giving people more choices and more of a voice because they can rank so many candidate sat the ballot box.

Authors claimed it would increase competition and turnout – they claimed we have only 10% turnout in primaries, suggesting general election candidates are selected by only the few extremists who vote in primaries. They claimed RCV would decrease polarization.  And that it’s very simple and easy to understand.

As we’ve written, evidence contradicts their claims. Studies show that polarization may increase under RCV, and turnout may decrease (Buisseret & Prato, 2022 and Atkinson et al., 2023).

Their claims about 10% voter turnout are not only far from the mark but show a complete disregard for checking even the most basic of ‘facts’ being fed to them by the left-wing supporters. The (easily checked) fact is that the turnout in the 2022 Wisconsin primary was 25.8% and in 2018 it was 23%. In 1982 it was 26.9%.

And the authors struggled to explain the problem they’re looking to solve by upending our current one-vote-per-person structure and replacing it with one that allows up to 5 votes per person.  They mentioned campaigns are tough. They mentioned opportunities.


Testimony from Others


It’s Easy

A consistent claim from supporters was that people intuitively understand RCV, that they find it easy to do, they like it, and it’s not at all confusing. But if it were so easy and intuitive, there would not be million-dollar voter education campaigns in every jurisdiction RCV is implemented.

And a Wisconsin clerk testified (in opposition) that voters have plenty of confusion and difficulty with ballots as they are, where they only have to pick one candidate.

On the issue of confusion – the RCV supporters deliberately miss the point. People may think they understand the concept of rank choice voting. They don’t. That’s because RCV isn’t one thing, it’s myriad things, and within one type of RCV structure there are also multiple ways that ballots are handled.

Most people don’t understand that their ballot may be tossed out if they don’t rank all available candidates.  They may believe the rankings are all added up to find a mathematical “consensus” candidate. They may not realize that by ranking one candidate higher than another, they may actually disadvantage their higher-ranked choice.

The concept of ranking seems relatively easy to understand.  The execution of the rankings by real-world voters and the tabulation is not straightforward at all – and even less so because of the deliberate misinformation being pedaled by the supporters.


More Competition, Less Negativity

One consistent claim from supporters is that RCV will create more competition and at the same time decrease negativity of campaigns. From some, this is likely just Pollyannaish naivete, from the money people, it’s knowingly pedaling snake oil.

Negative campaigning – which has existed since elections have – persists because like it or not, it is an effective tactic.  This has little to do with whether the election is partisan. Consider this spring’s non-partisan, highly negative supreme court race. Candidates slammed one another within and across ideological lines in the primary. So, we’re to believe if all 4 primary candidates had gone on to a ranked choice general, this would have been a positive race about building consensus??

Just like consumers are more likely to tell others about a bad experience at a retailer than a good one, voters are more likely to remember a negative position or story about a candidate.  A general rule of thumb is that the more competitive the race, the more negative it is.

Yet supporters indulge in magical thinking that RCV both increases competitiveness and decreases negativity.  Apparently, they think RCV will change human nature.


RCV Has Widespread, Growing GOP Grassroots Support

One lobbyist for RCV says he has spoken 47 times to local conservative groups about RCV and by the time he’s done, they think it’s great, and his polling shows 50% of Republicans support it.

If RCV has broad support from Republicans/conservatives, you wouldn’t know it based on the grassroots conservatives who overwhelmingly and passionately testified against it.

One such opponent testified that he has biracial grandchildren, and he rejects a system that would force him to give a vote – a ranking – to a candidate that holds racist beliefs about his grandkids or risk having his ballot tossed out.

A national research group testifying against the bill laid out the deep democrat connections of the deep-pocket funders of the national RCV effort.  Building on that theme, another opponent – this one a Wisconsin voter – listed some of the large cash donations that have gone to committee members and bill authors.


The Closer: Katherine Gehl Speaks

The committee allowed Gehl, funder and founder of Democracy Found and other RCV groups to testify last. This decision meant she spoke to a much smaller crowd than earlier, and to only 2 committee members in the room.

Gehl said RCV isn’t about elections, but about changing how elected officials govern, by letting them act in office without worrying about losing a reelect.

She used Simpson-Bowles (a budget framework idea that calls for tax increases and spending cuts) as an example of something Democrats can’t vote for because they can’t cut spending and win, and Republicans can’t vote for because they can’t support tax increases. (The people in Milwaukee City and County who just had their sales taxes hiked courtesy of GOP legislation may be surprised to learn this is not possible.)

Gehl said good governing and solutions can’t happen now but they could under RCV, because an incumbent who took such votes could make it through a non-partisan primary, and then be able to prevail in the ranked choice general.

Why both sides wouldn’t target (with negative campaigning) an incumbent that did things both sides oppose to try eliminate him/her in an early voting round is unclear. But that’s her contention: and there wouldn’t be negativity, and the people running against the incumbent from both sides would just be…nice…and not attack him/her (in hopes of getting some second-choice votes?) And the voters would be glad of a solution where taxes went up and spending went down and reward the incumbent with a win.


There were about 4 hours of testimony on this bill from dozens of supporters and opponents. While there were numerous voters who spoke opposed to the plan, fewer testified in support. It’s clear there is strong grassroots opposition on the Republican side – people motivated enough to come to Madison and sit for many hours waiting for their 5 minutes of testimony, with some not getting their chance until nearly 8 hours after the hearing began. More than one of these interested voters expressed concern that their contacts to legislative offices about the issue have gone unanswered, and the inattention of the committee members who left the hearing or looked at their phones while concerned citizens testified.

The companion bill in the Assembly isn’t yet scheduled for a hearing, and the chair gave no indication as to whether he would schedule a vote on the bill.



Atkinson, N., Foley, E. B., & Ganz, S. (2023, April 5). Beyond the Spoiler Effect: Can Ranked Choice Voting Solve the Problem of Political Polarization? Social Science Research Network. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4411173

Buisseret, P., & Prato, C. (2022). Politics Transformed? How Ranked Choice Voting Shapes Electoral Strategies. https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/piep/files/rcv_20220325.pdf