Episode 93: Why Are We Trying to Make Voting Harder?

Marcos Lopez

Free to Offend Episode 93 | Guest:  Jason Snead, Honest Elections Project

Is ranked-choice voting best for Nevada? Jason Snead, Executive Director of the Honest Elections Project, joins Nevada Policy Outreach and Coalitions Director Marcos Lopez for a special interview, recorded live recently at The Dangers of Ranked-Choice Voting: a Grassroots Seminar.

Read the Transcript

Jason Snead: Making voting harder is absolutely not what we should be doing right now, but that is ultimately what ranked-choice voting does.

Marcos Lopez: Welcome to Nevada Policy’s Free to Offend. I am your Outreach and Coalition Director Marcos Lopez filling in for Michael Schaus this week.

I am here today at an anti-ranked-choice voting seminar that’s being put on together by a whole sort of national groups. The whole topic here is how do we defeat ranked-choice voting, or Question Three, here in Nevada.

We have about 180 attendees here, all energized to make sure that we’re able to defeat this ballot proposition in 2024. So, this whole show today will be on the subject of elections reform, and again, Question Three, final five ranked-choice voting.

As you might remember, this passed this past election cycle, approximately 53 percent to just over 47 percent. As Nevada’s rules go for constitutional amendments, it has to pass twice.

Our guest today is Jason Snead, the executive director of the Honest Elections Project. He is a recognized leader, expert and advocate for common sense safeguards that secure elections and protect voter confidence. Jason frequently writes, speaks and testifies on a wide range of election issues. And previously, he served as a senior analyst at the great Heritage Foundation.

Jason, how are you doing today? It’s great to talk to you.

Jason Snead: It’s great to actually be in Nevada and great to be on the program.

Marcos Lopez: I love when people come to Nevada. I love showing off Nevada. I think we’re such a unique state and that makes us actually quite a target for a lot of different proposals as an experiment just because it’s such a low bar when it comes to the amount of money to invest in a project. I think this is what we’re seeing here with Question Three.

But to begin, I think, explain to our listeners a little bit about the Honest Elections Project, how it got started, the role that it plays within the broader conservative movement and maybe a little bit about how you got involved in the election reform discussion.

Jason Snead: Well, I started working on election reform issues when I was at the Heritage Foundation, which was a one of a kind opportunity and a fantastic organization. And then I left to start Honest Elections, and we launched in early 2020.

At the time, we were anticipating that the presidential election would be the most litigious in history. We were proven right, although we couldn’t have predicted all of the chaos with the COVID pandemic that ensued. But we saw hundreds of lawsuits filed that year trying to change voting laws and procedures around the country.

We also saw the emergence of Zuckbucks with private election funding and so many other things that were going on in the election process, all aimed at reducing safeguards and ultimately introducing slack into elections.

Over the last few years, we have helped to craft policies that have responded to that and to help to restore voter confidence in elections. I’m very proud of the work that we’ve been able to do, helping to develop effective messaging, helping to rally conservative voices to the cause, helping to defeat H.R.1 in Congress and preserve the ability of states to regulate elections. And then ultimately to promote good policies at the state level.

So, we, we advocate, we litigate and, ultimately, we are always working to make it easier to vote, but harder to cheat.

Marcos Lopez: That is such an important issue, particularly here in Nevada, I think. As our listeners know what all too well, we can’t seem to get timely election results here. It’s been about maybe three to four elections just seem to have been completely mismanaged. It takes forever and a lot of people are losing confidence in the system in its totality.

Whether or not you believe there was election fraud in 2020, I think that the fact there’s such a large chorus of individuals whose concerns is something that we must address and speak to because these are our neighbors. These are our people that have concerns. We want to make sure that they can have faith in the elections in the process. I think you summed it up perfectly; it should be easy to vote, but hard to cheat.

One of the things that is being proposed as a way for this is this Question Three, this final five ranked-choice voting. And again, as a reminder for our listeners, there are two parts to this Question Three. The first one is a jungle style, California primary effort in which every single candidate will be listed on your ballot. You vote for one and the top five make it to the general where there will be this ranked-choice voting process.

What do you believe has really been the prompt for this to be pushed across the country? What do you believe these proponents are trying to chase by enacting this final five ranked-choice voting?

Jason Snead: Well, it’s important to understand that what is going on in Nevada is one front in a multi-front push to bring RCV to elections in the United States. There are some big money donors and there are some national organizations that have been pushing this issue slowly over, in some cases, decades.

I think that what we’re seeing now is a recognition on their part that this is their moment, this is their chance, which is why you’re seeing a ballot measure fight right here in Nevada.

You’re also seeing a ballot measure fight in Arizona, in Idaho, in Oregon, in Missouri, potentially in Oklahoma, in Ohio and in Maine. In Massachusetts, they even tried a second time in three years to push ranked-choice voting there, too.

So, we’re seeing an explosion in ranked-choice voting. And it’s important for folks to understand that this is not because of an organic, local grassroots push for it. It’s because there is a concerted national effort. It is a coordinated campaign to bring jungle primaries and ranked-choice voting to as many states as possible, and Nevada is one of their top targets.

Marcos Lopez: I think this point you make that this is not something that’s being brought up organically to the grassroots, that this is really a top-down approach that is being funneled by a lot of liberal activists. George Soros has thrown some money in it.

But even the main pusher, Katherine Gehl, who, who’s trying to promote this as some new brand new idea, when you talk to and listen to them, they never even mention that this is really an old progressive idea from the 20th century that they’re just recycling and merging with the open primary, which really is the part that I’m most concerned of because of the fact that it will weaken parties and the ability to choose the candidate for members who wish to associate with a party.

What are some of your main concerns and the reasons that you were opposed to ranked-choice voting?

Jason Snead: Well, I think that my first and foremost concern is that it makes voting harder. So, in a final five election, you are asking voters to learn about and rank five candidates in each race that uses RCV.

So, it’s not a single election. It’s multiple races, which means that you’re not just ranking five people. You could be ranking 50 plus candidates on a general election ballot. That increases the amount of time that voters, on the one hand, need to spend learning about candidates. And let’s be frank, most of the people on that ballot do not have any chance of winning the election.

So, you’re taking up voters’ time learning about the issues that candidates that we would consider to be fringe and unelectable today are out there talking about. But they have a right to appear on the ballot just because of the way final five works.

Then there’s also studies out there that show that the actual act of casting a ballot takes more time. So, in a final five contest, you can expect up to a minute of additional time (per race) just casting a ballot than what that voter would have had to put into voting in a regular, ordinary election ballot.

So now if you have, say, 15 or 20 races that are using a final five type system, you’re adding another 20 minutes to the voting experience. So now it’s going to take you 40 or 45 minutes to fill out a ballot. That means that if you are going to vote in a polling place, that you can expect longer lines and a poorer voting experience.

All of this has the effect of actually deterring people from participating in the democratic process in the first instance. And ironically enough, many of the people who are pushing ranked-choice voting are pushing this complicated and difficult system, but they’re also saying that many of the people that are hardest hit by it (minority voters, people who don’t speak English, low propensity voters) can’t comply with a basic voter identification law.

So, there’s a disconnect here that I think people need to be thinking more about. But making voting harder is absolutely not what we should be doing right now. But that is ultimately what ranked-choice voting does. It makes it harder to vote and easier to cheat.

Marcos Lopez: I think that’s all part of the reason of why everywhere that this has been tried, almost universally, it’s been repealed at some point.

This was a large push, as I mentioned, in the early 20th century. There were about 50 to 60 cities and municipalities across the country that implemented it. And by the ’70s, almost unanimously, they all repealed this. Because people, once they’re in the voting booth with this almost bible-shaped ballot in front of you with all these different candidates, it’s really hard to process all this information and make a real educated choice in it.

One of the things that proponents are going to say is that we’re going to achieve the majority consensus, that we’re going to be able to get more moderate elected officials and we’ll make our elections more diverse in opinion. What do you say to those claims?

Jason Snead: There is no evidence to sustain the claims that it’s going to lead to a more diverse set of elected officials. There’s no evidence to the claims that it moderates politics or that it makes our politics nicer. These are all claims that the proponents of ranked-choice voting are bandying about all across the country, but they all end up actually falling flat.

So, take, for instance, the data about political advertising in Maine. After they adopted ranked-choice voting, it generally got negative, more negative, than it was before. So, to the extent that there is any impact at all on whether you’re going to see positive or negative advertising, you actually wind up seeing a negative advertising push more so than a positive one.

It also doesn’t deliver true majorities, which is another big thing that that ranked-choice voting advocates are always talking about. It manufactures majorities by redistributing votes from failed candidates and eliminating exhausted ballots, which is something else that we ought to talk about, and then manufacturing this kind of phony majority.

I live in Virginia and a county that is just north of where I live, Arlington County, used ranked-choice voting in a Democratic primary earlier this year. And what it did, it took the person who got the most first place votes, 25 percent of the first place vote, and after six rounds of elimination, declared that she was the winner with a 60 percent vote margin.

That is the manufactured, inflated majority that ranked-choice voting delivered. But because so many ballots can get thrown out in this process, sometimes it’s not even a real majority of the total votes cast, much less any kind of majority that actually purports to be real in the sense of, well, 60 percent of voters actually want that particular candidate.

Marcos Lopez: Perfect segue into this whole phenomenon of exhausted ballots. And there are many different ways in which an individual can have their ballot eliminated. Among them, that they rank these candidates in the same rank file. They could have not ranked all the candidates. And it goes exactly to what you mentioned, the final result is the majority of the ballots that are left.

There will be people who are disenfranchised, who will not have their vote counted. And I think that this will have serious impacts on our elections. I don’t know if you want to add something else to that.

Jason Snead: There is an equation that we use, and we all understand it, for how you determine who is the winner of an election and what the percentage of the vote is, right? The numerator is the total votes cast for a candidate. The denominator is the total votes cast in an election.

Well, with a ranked-choice election, what you actually see is that a great many people don’t rank all of the candidates, and there are several good reasons for that. One is they can be confused, and they don’t understand that they’re not supposed to vote for more than one.

Another may be that they simply cannot stand three of those candidates, so they’re not going to vote for a third, fourth or fifth. They may just decide that they’re only going to rank the person that they know, and then they’re not going to do more research. So, there’s all these reasons why you might not actually have a ballot that is cast that has all those rankings.

If you’re going through the process of elimination and you run out of rankings before you get a winner, then your ballot is considered exhausted, and it’s thrown out. And so that’s not just taking it away from the numerator of that equation, it’s taking it away from the denominator.

So, with each round of elimination in an RCV contest, it is as if fewer and fewer people actually voted. That’s mathematically necessary because it’s the only way that you can manufacture that majority.

If you look at Alaska, where they had a special congressional election, one in five of Nick Begich’s voters were thrown out when Begich was eliminated as the third place candidate. If you add those back into the total votes cast in the election, the Democrat, Mary Peltola, still wins, but she doesn’t get a majority of the vote.

So again, there’s so many layers where it’s trying to manufacture a majority and it’s throwing out ballots in the process. And that’s a real problem from the perspective of most voters.

Marcos Lopez: One of the questions that get asked a lot, and we kind of already discussed it a bit, but let’s say this is definitely, this moves forward.

Do we have any idea of what the actual consequences will be on the ground for different campaigns and how they have to change their strategies to be able to work in this new system? Because it seems to me that what most people will have to take into account, from a political strategist perspective and operatives, is who’s second place?

Because that has such an implication of how the votes will be redistributed. Do we have any idea of how that might potentially play out?

Jason Snead: Well, it absolutely changes the dynamics of elections from the beginning to the end, because you’ve got a jungle primary process at the beginning, which means that candidates will have to stand out in a field of potentially as many as 50 individual candidates.

I mean, when Alaska did this special election ballot, the primary had over 50 candidates and you can vote for one person. So, the first thing you’ve got to do is figure out how do you distinguish yourself from all those other names, right?

And keep in mind, we’re talking about a jungle primary. So, you’re going to be competing for attention between Republicans and Democrats and independents and Socialists and Green Party. All of the individual parties will be represented on a single ballot.

Then in the ranked-choice contest, you are competing as a candidate to get second and third place votes because oftentimes the winner wins on the strength of those second and third place votes. So, the person who has the most first place votes ends up losing the election and the person who got second or third place winds up winning.

So, it absolutely changes the dynamics, but here’s one thing that it does. It does make you more reliant on outside “dark money expenditures.” One reason for that is because of that phenomenon where you’re trying to reach out to second and third place voters, that means that you need to appeal to them.

You don’t necessarily want to look like you’re campaigning negatively, but negative ads are still incredibly important to winning an election. So, you need someone else to do the dirty work. for you. What that does actually is it empowers a very deep pocketed donor base, ironically enough, the same people who are funding the push for ranked-choice voting.

I would argue that you actually have a system that not only changes the campaign dynamics but gives even more power to liberal mega donors like George Soros, for instance, to pick candidates and influence campaigns. And they’re literally buying a system that is more responsive to their needs than to the average voter.

Marcos Lopez: I find this completely interesting because I picked up Catherine’s book where she talks about political innovation, how this is a brand new idea. And one of the things that she discussed in her book was how she really was disillusioned with the outcome of the Obama years when there was a congressional backlash in 2010.

Republicans took over the Congress for the second time in four years because the last time before that was the Newt Gingrich revolution. She was so distraught that there were representatives in Congress roadblocking the proposals by Barack Obama, she wanted to make it easier to get things done.

What we were seeing and experiencing was a backlash from the country as our democratic system was set up to make it harder for drastic changes. And I always found that completely interesting. It really just reveals what they’re trying to do, which is to get squishy moderates elected.

I always say that there’s a difference between moderate in principles and moderate in approach. I think what they’re trying to do is get moderate in principle people elected that lobbyists are able to get around and be able to sway them to make it easier to get their bidding done. I don’t know if you agree or disagree with that, but that’s always been something that’s been my concern with this.

Jason Snead: I think the general push here is to push American politics to the left. And absolutely getting some of those kinds of squishy moderates elected is part of that strategy. And you’re right that a lot of the frustration that Gail and others pushing this have expressed is that they don’t always get their way, right?

Any time someone says we need to upend the American political system and reinvent the democratic process from the ground up because I’m not getting my way, I’m pretty skeptical. I happen to think that it’s a good thing that we have had a constitutional republic and we have remained committed to the constitution for two and a half centuries, and I think that it actually probably reflects more poorly on you that your policies maybe are not actually good for the country or good for your community than it does on the political system, but it’s not necessarily immediately responsive to you.

So, there is there is absolutely a push here and ranked-choice voting is part of it to push our politics away from people with principles and towards people in that kind of muddy middle, but ultimately to push politics to the left to the advantage of the people who are financing ranked-choice voting.

Marcos Lopez: I mean, to that point, I think this is something that we see from the progressive left, and we’ve been seeing for the last 20, 30 years, right? Oh, you’re not able to get judges nominated, let’s sign the filibuster. The Supreme Court is ruling in a way that you do not like, it’s time to expand the court. And I think it’s this attack of traditional democratic norms, which is ironic that that’s what they attacked Donald Trump on so often.

They are just so happy to pursue it and change our entire system if they don’t like the outcome and the way that it’s going.

Jason Snead: That’s 100 percent right. I mean, look at the fact that Senate Democrats were very happy to use the filibuster when Donald Trump was president. They were. They had no problems with it whatsoever.

But the moment that it was impeding their agenda, suddenly it became a vehicle of racism and, it was time to go a check and a balance in our political system has to work both ways.

And this underlying logic that you do see on the left of, well it should be a check for the, but not for me, absolutely makes no sense in an accountable democratic republic. So, I think that ranked-choice voting very easily fits into that broader left wing push to get rid of some of those safeguards that make our system accountable to the individual voters.

Marcos Lopez: As we look forward, we want to make sure that everyone’s aware of this. This will be on your ballot in 2024 as the rules dictate in Nevada for a constitutional amendment to go through. They have to be approved twice by the majority of voters.

Now, what that typically means practically is when it comes to electoral strategy in Nevada, the first time anything is up on this constitutional amendment, it’s more of let’s see where the die lands, where is the threshold to begin with.

At basically a 52%-48% margin, this is still a very defeatable proposition, and I think this time we will see a lot of opposition come through. For many of you who have lived in Nevada long enough, you remember in 2016 there was that effort to deregulate our power energy. It passed 70 percent in favor the first time; the second time the margins flipped, and it was failed 70 percent.

I think this is really the time people need to get active and engaged in our system. What do you think, Jason, about what steps need to be taken to make sure we educate voters about this? And what is the short elevator pitch would you encourage people to use when discussing with someone who might not be familiar with this system or Question Three of how to convince them to vote no on this?

Jason Snead: Well, the short elevator pitch is this. Ranked-choice voting makes it harder to vote. Ranked-choice voting has been tried and repealed in a number of places. And we’ve actually got resources online at StopRCV.com that can help educate you on the problems with ranked-choice voting.

I’m very proud and very fortunate to be able to co-chair a national conservative coalition dedicated to stopping the spread of ranked-choice voting. It has indeed been repealed in many places. This is one of the most effective things that we can do is tell people about the fact that Aspen, Colorado used ranked-choice voting, and then voters repealed it overwhelmingly in a single election. Arlington County, Virginia, the Democratic primary ranked-choice voting, and then it was repealed immediately because of problems with that.

In Utah, half the jurisdictions that signed up for an RCV pilot project have since walked away because it never delivered on its promise. These are real problems that voters need to understand.

The other thing that they need to understand is what is and what is not in this amendment. It is not about open primaries. It’s about jungle primaries, California style jungle primaries. In fact, bringing ranked-choice voting to the general election, I suspect that Nevadans are going to hear a lot more about “open primaries” than they are about the ranked-choice in part because the polling is so negative on RCV.

I think that one other thing that people need to be doing is not only getting educated, but making sure that we are reminding everyone that this is about jungle primaries and ranked-choice voting.

Marcos Lopez: You hit the nail right on the head on that one. I mean, one of the things that we saw in the ads that they were putting forward was this retired veteran discussing about how he’s a registered independent and he wasn’t able to vote in the primaries.

My response is it’s that it takes two seconds in Nevada to switch your party to be able to vote in a primary. I myself have done it. If I know that a particular party is going to have a certain nominee, I might go to the other one just to try to vote for either the worst option or the least worst option, depending on how I’m feeling that year.

But this is something that does occur and is super simple. I just don’t think it holds mustard. But that’s what they use just because Nevada is a plurality of independent voters. I think even that is saying a message to the two parties that maybe what candidates you’re putting up is not what you should be putting up.

I think that’s a reason and incentive for the parties to pursue different tactics to be able to get that plurality of the vote.

Jason Snead: It’s worth pointing out that that’s one of the actual strengths of our two party system. When you have two parties, not only is your system generally more stable than a European style parliamentary democracy, but also those parties are trying to compete to build big tent coalitions.

It actually winds up encouraging people to get involved in politics and it leads to a more representative process for the voters. So, it actually is a good stabilizer. We shouldn’t be trying to tear that down. We should be trying to bolster and reinforce that system.

One other thing I’ll say is that even beyond the impact on the party system, what ranked-choice voting promises is to turn elections into a black box at a time when voters are telling us they want more transparency and more accountability in our political system and in our election system. In particular, it leads to delays in the tabulation of results at a time when they say they want results on election night.

Ranked-choice voting fails in every metric where voters are saying, here’s what we want to see in an election system. In election reforms, rank choice voting goes in the other direction.

Marcos Lopez: Moving forward, how does Honest Election Project plan to stay involved in Nevada to help us defeat this effort?

Jason Snead: Well, we’re very proud to play an educational role and to work with our coalition partners nationally as well as in the state to continue to make sure that voters are aware of what is going on in Nevada and across the country. Because again, this is an important fight, but it is one front in a national effort to bring jungle primaries and RCV to our elections.

The next year is going to be crucial and we’re absolutely going to be here and I’m looking forward to being back in the great state of Nevada before too long.

Marcos Lopez: Well, perfect. Thank you so much, Jason. It’s a pleasure to have you here. If people want to follow Honest Elections Project and follow your work, where can they find you?

Jason Snead: We are at honestelections.org. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook at Honest Elections. I guess it’s called X now. And then if you want to find out specifically about the Stop RCV Coalition, stoprcv.com.

Marcos Lopez: Well, there you have it, folks. I think this was a wonderful program. Remember to follow Nevada Policy. We will also be working to oppose this. I hope you all take care.

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 Free to Offend:
A podcast that radically defends free speech by regularly practicing it.

Produced by Nevada Policy Research Institute,
featuring Nevada Policy’s Michael Schaus.

Marcos Lopez

Marcos Lopez

Policy Fellow

Marcos Lopez serves as a Policy Fellow for Nevada Policy. For over a decade, Marcos has fought to advance free-market principles, limited government, and secure individual rights through electioneering, lobbying, and grassroots mobilization at all levels of government across nine states and Washington D.C.

Originally from Miami, Marcos moved to Nevada in 2015 and has lived in Reno and Las Vegas, where he currently resides. His main areas of focus include economic opportunity, criminal justice reform, and school choice. Marcos’ work and efforts have been recognized and featured in The New York Times, The Las Vegas Review Journal, The Nevada Independent, This is Reno, and The Nevada Current.