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Scottsdale legislator speaks out against ranked choice voting

Posted 4/3/23

PHOENIX – A freshman Scottsdale legislator is an outspoken critic of a potential primary election change that is designed to assist more moderate candidates win.

“Most voters are not …

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Scottsdale legislator speaks out against ranked choice voting


PHOENIX – A freshman Scottsdale legislator is an outspoken critic of a potential primary election change that is designed to assist more moderate candidates win.

“Most voters are not centrist,” Alexander Kolodin said during Wednesday’s meeting of the House committee where he advocated for a constitutional amendment that would ban ranked choice voting.

“Most voters are left, or most voters are right,” he said. “And so by structuring a system where all we can get out of it is moderates, nobody gets their first choice.”

Republican state lawmakers are moving on multiple fronts to head off a possible voter initiative that would implement ranked choice voting in Arizona, a system designed to ensure that more moderate candidates can win elections.

The efforts come even as the groups considering a measure for the 2024 ballot remain in the early stages of their effort and concede it may not even move ahead.

Last week the Republican-controlled Legislature placed its own measure on the ballot precluding the non-traditional election format they contend disenfranchises some primary elections.

The proposal, HCR 2033, would preempt any effort to change primary election laws to advance more than one person per political party to the general election.

And two more direct measures are advancing that would ban anything other than traditional vote-tallies where the top candidates advance from the primary election and face off head-to-head in the general election, with whoever gets the most votes prevailing.

Two states and more than 50 localities across the nation have enacted ranked choice voting in recent years, according to an October report by the Congressional Research Service. The goal of all the efforts is to eliminate the current system where partisan primary voters tend to pick non-moderate candidates, who then have little incentive to move to the middle and back consensus legislation.

That’s not what the voters want, according to Kolodin, who doubled down on his earlier comments in a later interview, explaining his opposition by calling the process “a black box” that is inconsistent state to state, appears arbitrary, “can be gamed” and is not transparent to voters.

“And most importantly, in my mind, it denies voters a real choice, right?” the Republican and election law attorney said.

“Ranked choice voting essentially ensures you're always going to get moderates,” he said. “Most voters, or at least a big chunk of voters, they aren't moderates. There's a lot of people who are conservatives, a lot of people who are liberals.”

That is wrong, said Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican political operative and consultant now working to get ranked choice voting on the ballot as a member of the group Save Democracy Arizona.

“It's patently untrue,” said Coughlin, who worked on the late Sen. John McCain campaign in the 1980s and was a close adviser to Republican former Gov. Jan Brewer. “I mean, look at the voter registration file: the largest part of voter registration file now is unaffiliated.”

Coughlin said most voters want public officials who solve problems.

"Leadership is rewarded by voters, but it's punished by primary voters,'' Coughlin said.

Save Democracy Arizona is working with another group called Voter Choice Arizona on a potential initiative for the 2024 ballot. Leadership of both groups is bipartisan and packed with Republicans, Democrats and independents.

The potential ballot measure would use a form of ranked choice voting where the top five candidates in a first-round vote advance to the general election. Voters would then rank their picks in order.

If no candidate gets more than 50%, the lowest voter-getter would be eliminated, and their voters' second choice would be moved up, as often as necessary, until a winner emerges.

The ballot measure is not yet a sure-thing, said Coughlin. The final legal language has to be written, messaging nailed down and tested with focus groups and polling done before a decision is made.

“If I can't get language that is going to go on top of the petition, that is going to be something I can test and point to, I can't do this,” he said.

“I'm not going to go raise $20 million, or try and beg $10 million from somebody, if I can't win,” Couglin said.

We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.