Dark money group takes millions of out-of-state dollars to push ranked-choice voting system that some say favors Democrats

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A group named ‘Better Elections’ is taking millions of dollars from a dark money nonprofit to overhaul Missouri elections and implement ranked-choice voting (RCV).

The group is currently gathering signatures for a ballot petition to allow voters to choose if they want RCV or not, but many opponents of the proposed new voting system argue it complicates the election process and will favor Democrats.

Massachusetts is one of the latest states to attempt to pass ranked-choice voting, with vocal support from Massachusetts politicians like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and member of Congress’ liberal “squad”, Rep. Ayanna Pressley. However, despite support from the state’s top-ranking elected Democrats, a massive fundraising advantage and an army of volunteers, the ballot effort to implement RCV in Massachusetts fell short by a 10-point margin, Boston.com reported.

Better Elections’ version of ranked-choice voting would eliminate partisan primary elections and instead have one primary where candidates of all parties would be pitted against each other. The top four candidates would advance to the general election. Then, the winner of the election would be determined by the ranked-choice system.

In a RCV system, voters rank their choices from most to least favorable in the general election. If a candidate receives a majority (more than 50%) of first-place votes after the first tally, they are declared the winner, though that often doesn’t happen. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, then a series of “runoffs” occur and the votes are re-tallied.

The candidate with the least first place votes is eliminated and the ballots listing that candidate as their first choice are re-tallied after omitting the candidate from the ballot. The ballot’s second choice is then considered to be the ballot’s first choice, and a first-place vote is given to a candidate who was actually the voter’s second choice. The ballot’s third choice is then considered to be the ballot’s second choice, and so on.

The process repeats each round until a winner is determined. The version of RCV on the ballot petition would apply to the Missouri General Assembly, congressional elections and all statewide offices.

“I am pretty skeptical of ranked-choice voting,” State Rep. Alex Riley (R-Springfield) said. “I think it will cause a great deal of confusion and really complicate our election process. I am not convinced our current process where a voter chooses one preferred candidate is broken, so I do not see a need to change that system which we have used in this country for many, many decades.”

Since September 2021, a Virginia-based 501c(4) nonprofit named Article IV has donated over $2.8 million to Better Elections, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

This brings up a major fundamental question: why is an out-of-state entity so invested in changing the voting process in Missouri?

Some believe that Better Elections’ effort to implement RCV is an attempt to elect more Democrats to state offices because they haven’t had much success with the standard – and reliable – voting system that Missouri uses.

The Washington Examiner reported that Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton called RCV a “corrupt scam,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy labeled it as “woke” and New York Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney argued that it “disenfranchises” voters. 

Even former Governor of California Democrat Jerry Brown recognized the flaws in the ranked-choice voting system and vetoed a bill in 2016 that would have expanded RCV across the state.

“Ranked-choice voting is overly complicated and confusing. I believe it deprives voters of genuinely informed choice,” said Brown.

The theory that RCV benefits Democrats was perfectly exemplified in Maine’s 2018 election for the 2nd Congressional District. Sitting GOP Congressman Bruce Poliquin was defeated by state legislator Jared Golden, even though Poliquin received 46.4 percent of the initial vote compared to Golden’s 45.5 percent.

Although almost 92% of the votes went to either Golden or Poliquin, the RCV system forced subsequent rounds of tallying ballots when neither candidate received a simple majority of votes. This caused Golden to pull ahead and eventually win the race, even though he was beaten outright by Poliquin in the first tally. 

“Ranked-Choice Voting is a slick scheme by the Left to elect more Liberals,” Liberty Alliance Executive Director Spencer Bone said. “The idea is endorsed by radicals like Elizabeth Warren who do not share our values. Missourians should reject this out-of-state effort to take over our elections.”

Others agree. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft called the voting system “smoke and mirrors” and believes RCV is an insufficient system with the sole purpose of electing more Democrats. 

“It’s an outside partisan political group that’s trying to change Missouri’s election laws so that they will win,” Ashcroft told The Heartlander. “I believe that the process we have is correct for making sure that the lawful voters of the state make the decision and I will fight to defend that.”

Others worry that ranked-choice voting is designed to trick voters and eliminate political parties altogether. 

“This isn’t ranked-choice voting. This is getting rid of the political primary process and trying to get rid of political parties in general,” State Rep. Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles) said. “It’s a social experiment through the initiative petition process. It is precisely because of initiatives like this that many legislators are filing initiative petition reform bills to slow down the number of social experiments that are being conducted via the process of amending our most sacred governmental document.”

Article IV also isn’t required to disclose its donors. Mexico, Missouri attorney David Roland, the treasurer of Better Elections, did not respond when asked to disclose the source of the nearly $3 million his group has raised.

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