Scoppe: Trump supporters fight SC ranked-choice voting bill | Commentary

There’s a special class of political opportunists who believe they can sell people any sort of nonsense just by adorning a “conservative” label or invoking the name of the defeated former president, and the other day they put on an exhibition leading up to a House subcommittee meeting. 

Their target was a bill to give municipalities the option of using the instant-runoff/ranked-choice voting method in their elections that South Carolina already offers to members of the military in state primaries. My colleagues and I support it because it gives you all the benefits with none of the cost or aggravation of a traditional runoff, but it has barely better than zero percent chance of passing. Regardless, the mere idea of a subcommittee holding a public hearing on it set the hair-on-fire gang’s hair on fire.

A group that calls itself United Patriots Alliance sent out an urgent blast email the day before the meeting warning of the “Greatest Attack on Election Integrity EVER!” Opponents acknowledged that H.4022 applies only to municipalities, but warned that “the next step is the state level,” before declaring in large bold red letters: “THIS IS JUST ANOTHER WAY TO KEEP TRUMP OFF THE BALLOT.”

A few hours later, a group called Palmetto State Watch breathlessly revealed an entirely different conspiracy: House Republicans had put the instant-runoff/ranked-choice voting bill on the agenda as a “DIVERSIONARY TACTIC” so they could kill it and “look like the heroes” while running out the clock on the meeting so there would be no time to take up the conspiracy-inspired bills to make the job of election workers more difficult. Apparently it never occurred to either group that, as usual, the chairman simply put bills on the agenda that the sponsors asked him to.

Both sets of critics fancy themselves conservatives, and dismiss just about every Republican in elected office as “establishment.” But there’s nothing “conservative” about them: not in the traditional vein of opposing change and not in the pre-Trumpian vein of supporting fiscal conservatism, free-market economic principles and a hawkish foreign policy.

When you get all frantic over a bill like H.4022, either you’re unhinged from reality or else you’re convinced that the people you’re contacting are too stupid to see through you. Because it only takes about a minute to think this thing through and start rolling on the floor laughing over the idea that a bill that had its first hearing on Jan. 25, 2024, could keep Donald Trump off the S.C. ballot.

Let’s assume the Legislature had broken land-speed records and passed the bill early this month — which was never a possibility. Even if that happened, it would have been too late to keep Mr. Trump’s name off South Carolina’s Feb. 24 Republican presidential primary ballot; absentee ballots were printed well before that.

Ah, but there’s the general election. And yes, instant-runoff voting can be used in general elections. But only if you require general-election candidates to receive a majority of the vote; South Carolina doesn’t.

So in order for H.4022 to have any effect on Mr. Trump, our lawmakers would have to amend it to apply to statewide elections instead of just municipal elections. Then they’d have to transform the bill into a vehicle to overturn our decades-old (or older) tradition of mere plurality requirements in our general elections. Then they’d have to clear the multitudinous procedural hurdles erected by the legislators who kowtow to the crazies, and pass this completely rewritten bill. No rational person thinks any of that will occur, much less all of it.

Yet even if somehow it did, the bill still wouldn’t keep Mr. Trump off the ballot — because instant-runoff voting doesn’t keep anybody off the ballot. It also has no effect on the outcome when the first-place finisher receives 50% of the votes plus one — as I assume Mr. Trump will in South Carolina if he’s the GOP nominee.

Ranked-choice/instant-runoff only changes what happens if nobody receives a required majority. Rather than eliminating the also-rans and holding a runoff election two weeks later, as many cities do now, election officials would pull out the ballots cast for the candidate who finished last and count the second-place choices on those ballots; that process continues until one candidate receives a majority.

As an advocate of this method explained at the public hearing: “You send your spouse to the grocery store. If they don’t have butter pecan, please get me mint chocolate chip; if they don’t have mint chocolate chip, get me peanut butter ripple. I have just ranked my ice creams. It’s the same thing.”

After a former Virginia legislator recounted how Republicans used ranked-choice to nominate Glenn Youngkin and take back the governor’s mansion in 2021, a “conservative” critic testified that if Virginia Republicans had to resort to ranked-choice to win, they deserved to lose.

None of this is to say that Trump cultists have no reason to worry about instant-runoff voting. It would have been accurate to warn that this could make it more difficult for extremist and particularly divisive candidates to win, because it makes it easier for mainstream voters to consolidate around candidates they don’t find repulsive. The folks who went nuts over the bill apparently are deeply threatened by that idea, perhaps with good cause.

If this method had been used in South Carolina’s 2016 Republican presidential primary, Mr. Trump probably wouldn’t have become president. Of course, he probably wouldn’t have become president if more of the South Carolinians who voted Republican in that year’s general election hadn’t skipped the primary. It would be nice to think they won’t make that same mistake again.

Sometimes people fabricate elaborate stories to fight candidates or ideas they don’t like, and it can be tough to distinguish fabrication from fact. But it’s usually easy to identify claims that make no sense — if we just take a  minute to think them through. They’re counting on us not doing that, and too often we live down to their expectations of us.

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