Letter Urging Ranked Choice Voting for Absentee Ballots

Dear State Legislator,

I am writing to you because, as a member of the Elections committee, you are in a unique position to help our soldiers and sailors overseas that are fighting to protect freedom. By reforming your state's absentee voting procedures, you can ensure that every soldier can vote in every election. These reforms will also protect states from potential federal lawsuits under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).

Because of the logistics of election administration, many military personnel are unable to vote in primary runoff elections because the window between the primary and the runoff is simply too small. Election administrators work hard to calculate the results of the primary and send out the runoff ballots, but for overseas voters the time it takes to mail back these ballots is too small.

This problem can expose states to federal court challenges. The U.S. Department of Justice has brought more than 20 UOCAVA enforcement suits. Most recently, the certification of the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Oklahoma was delayed due to such a suit.

How can we ensure that our military overseas voters can participate in runoff elections and avoid costly litigation? Louisiana has come up with an innovative program: a special ballot for overseas voters called instant runoff voting. And I hope you’ll consider introducing a bill setting up instant runoff voting for overseas absentee voters so that we won’t unintentionally disenfranchise members of the armed services stationed overseas.

Here’s how it works. Instead of sending the primary ballot a few weeks before the primary election, and then sending a runoff ballot overseas after the primary with the names of the two candidates on the runoff ballot, Louisiana sends two ballots. The first is the regular primary ballot and the second is a “provisional” ballot that allows voters to rank all the candidates in the primary.

On primary day, election administrators tally the primary absentee-ballot totals. Then in the event of a runoff, they open the “provisional” preference ballot. Of the two runoff candidates, the one who received the higher ranking gets the vote. In other words, if the first-choice candidate didn’t make it to the runoff, then we look at the second-choice candidate. If that one made it to the runoff, he gets the vote. If not, we look to the third-choice candidate.

Enclosed please find the language from the Louisiana statute that created these special ballots for overseas voters, as well as a copy of an actual sample ballot used in Louisiana.

The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-partisan, non-profit organization based outside of Washington, D.C. We would be happy to provide any assistance to you if you are interested in instant runoff voting in your state. Our General Counsel, Dan Johnson-Weinberger, can be reached at 312.587.7060 or via email at djw @ fairvote.org and he would be happy to help with any draft legislation. I can be reached in our national office at 301.270.4616.


Rob Richie
Executive Director