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The DC Democratic Party votes to reject the VOICE Amendment Act of 2021

September 20, 2021

TO: Council of the District of Columbia
FROM: Charles Wilson, DC Democratic Party Chairman
RE: The DC Democratic Party votes to reject the VOICE Amendment Act of 2021

Members of the Council of the District of Columbia,

At a time when the right to vote is under attack and the pandemic has caused us all to consider new, safer ways to cast a ballot, I would like to thank the DC Council for generating a conversation about how to make our local campaigns more equitable and representative of District residents.

After extensive debate, the DC Democratic Party overwhelmingly voted on September 9, 2021 to reject the implementation of ranked choice voting. We urge the DC Council to vote to reject the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equality (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021 and work with us to develop reforms that will best serve all residents in the District of Columbia.

This recommendation is based on three core factual concerns:

  • The District faces a substantial challenge with undervoting which would be exacerbated by ranked choice voting. 

 

Election data from the DC Board of Elections indicates when District voters are asked to vote for up to two candidates for At-Large Councilmember, consistently more than half choose not to do so. This effect is most significant in Wards 7 and 8, which each reported undervotes of greater than 70% during a Presidential election year. Although undervote data was unavailable for the 2020 election, we’ve noticed this trend since the 2014 General Election data.

Elections in which only one candidate is selected do not have the same result. The share of undervotes in the Ward 7 and Ward 8 Council races was in the single digits in 2016, in line with other parts of the District. 

The significant gap in participation in multi-vote elections causes a significant concern for equity in a ranked choice voting system. If voters in certain parts of the District consistently do not rank more than one candidate, their voices are less likely to be heard in a District-wide race. This concern is reinforced by a recent analysis of ranked choice voting in New York City, which showed that lower-income areas were less likely to participate.

  • District wards are not equal when it comes to voter turnout. 

 

The DC Democratic Party wholeheartedly supports the effort to increase voter education. This education is needed to help fill gaps in the current election system with a twenty-point difference in participation between wards with the highest and lowest turnout in DC elections. 

However, we challenge the argument by ranked choice voting advocates that the VOICE Amendment Act is the solution to this problem. Low turnout cannot be strictly linked to candidate choice. General apathy, concentrated poverty, literacy issues, and difficulty in completing the ballot also stand in the way of full participation in our elections. 

One has to look no further than the 2018 primary election where Ward 3 and 6 each reported more than a 21% turnout compared to Ward 7’s 12% and Ward 8’s 8%. RCV would further tilt greater electoral influence to more affluent parts of the District.

We believe that other methods, including robust voter education, are necessary for filling this gap.

  • The VOICE Amendment Act’s method for electing candidates in a multi-winner race is confusing and creates distrust in the process. 
     

While many of our members felt that they clearly understood how ranked choice voting would work in elections with a single winner, the method that would be used to tabulate votes for the At-Large Council race caused serious concern. The proposed legislation uses a series of complicated formulas to create an election threshold and a surplus fraction that transfers a value of less than one for the voter’s second ranked candidate. Not only is this confusing for voters, there are also no federally certified or recognized election machines capable of handling this type of tabulation.

 

While ranked choice voting may be suitable for some jurisdictions, The DC Democratic Party believes RCV is not right for the District. We should introduce measures aimed at strengthening voters’ trust and confidence in the system, not introducing convoluted processes that will further alienate voters and exacerbate the public’s distrust in our electoral process. 

Again, we ask the DC Council to reject the VOICE Amendment Act and increase funding for additional voter education by the DC Board of Elections, prioritizing populations with traditionally lower voting rates or a high percentage of undervotes.

 

Best Regards, 

Charles Wilson

Chairman, DC Democratic Party

DC Democratic State Committee Member Vote roster

Presentation to the DC Dems General Body