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Missouri joins other red states in trying to stamp out ranked choice voting

Five Republican-led states have banned ranked choice voting in recent months. Voters in other states, including Missouri, could ban the system later this year. Here, anti-ranked choice voting buttons are seen in Alaska.
Mark Thiessen
Five Republican-led states have banned ranked choice voting in recent months. Voters in other states, including Missouri, could ban the system later this year. Here, anti-ranked choice voting buttons are seen in Alaska.

ST. LOUIS — Five states have banned ranked choice voting in the last two months, bringing the total number of Republican-leaning states now prohibiting the voting method to 10.

Missouri could soon join them.

If approved by voters, a GOP-backed measure set for the state ballot this fall would amend Missouri’s constitution to ban ranked choice voting.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates and ensures the winner gains majority support, as compared to the vast majority of elections, where someone can win with a plurality of votes.

“We believe in the one person, one vote system of elections that our country was founded upon,” Missouri state Sen. Ben Brown, the ballot measure’s sponsor, said in an interview.

In the 2022 election cycle, a group of Republicans and Democrats unsuccessfully sought to advance a ranked choice voting proposal in Missouri. That would have instituted nonpartisan primaries for statewide, congressional and state legislative elections. The top four candidates would advance to the general election, where voters could then rank candidates from favorite to least favorite.

If someone gets a majority of initial votes, they win. If no one gets a majority, the fourth place contender would be eliminated. And voters who ranked that candidate first would have their vote go to their second choice. This process would continue until a candidate gets a majority.

Conservative pushback

Brown and other critics of ranked choice voting contend the system is confusing, and he said there are numerous instances in which voters didn’t end up ranking their choices.

“Proponents of rank choice voting claim for it to be a modern solution to electoral dilemmas or lack of confidence in our system of elections,” Brown said. “But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that the evidence and experience had illuminated a starkly different reality.”

Many conservative lawmakers have pushed back against the voting method — and other experts have also warned about “treating it as a one-size-fits all solution.”

If Missourians approve the ranked choice voting ban, the state will join Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Kentucky in barring the voting system this year. Alaska, where voters approved ranked choice voting in 2020, could see the practice repealed.

Meanwhile in other states, including Nevada and Oregon, voters will decide whether to adopt ranked choice voting later this year.


What’s on the Missouri ballot

Democratic state Rep. Eric Woods called Brown’s proposal “just wholly unnecessary.” Backers of the 2022 initiative contended that ranked choice voting provides incentives for candidates to reach out to a more ideologically diverse set of voters — and, in turn, govern in a more moderate and collaborative way.

“To say that the only way to give confidence [in elections] is to do exactly what we've been doing and enshrine exactly what people are starting to question into the constitution forever does not make any sense,” Woods said.

One of the quirks of the Missouri ballot measure is that it provides a carveout for the city of St. Louis, which adopted something called approval voting in 2022. That’s somewhat different from ranked choice voting: In that system, St. Louisans can vote for as many candidates for mayor or aldermen as they want in a nonpartisan primary. The top two vote-getters then advance to a general election, where voters can only select one candidate.

State Rep. Ben Baker, who sponsored the ranked choice voting ban in the House, said exempting St. Louis’ approval voting system was part of a compromise to move the ballot item through the legislative process.

“I'm not OK with it. But this is where we're at with this language of what we can get done in the body,” Baker said last month during the final day of the Missouri General Assembly session. “And I think it's still a big step in the right direction.”

The ballot item also includes a provision that would ban noncitizens from voting, which is already illegal under federal and state law. Brown said that while there aren’t any examples now of municipalities in Missouri that allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, the provision would guarantee that doesn’t happen in the future.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Jason Rosenbaum
Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.