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Bill would ban ranked-choice voting in Montana elections

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Eric Tegethoff

(Big Sky Connection) Montana lawmakers are considering banning a way of running elections known as ranked choice voting

Under this election system, people rank their top choices in order preference - and as candidates no longer become viable based on the number of votes, voters' next option is counted. 

Will Mantell, press secretary with FairVote, said ranked choice voting has benefits - such as for local, nonpartisan elections. He said these elections often are done in two rounds, with the two highest vote getters from round one running off in round two. 

Mantell noted that the first round of elections usually has low turnout, forcing cities or counties to pay for two elections.

"With ranked choice voting," said Mantell, "you can do that all in one election with a 'instant runoff' that identifies a majority winner in a crowded field."

Opponents of ranked choice voting say they make elections less transparent and can lead to ballot exhaustion, which occurs when all of the candidates marked on the ballot are no longer in the contest. 

Ranked choice voting is used in local elections across the country, and statewide in Alaska and Maine. A hearing is scheduled for the bill Monday.

Mantell said ranked choice voting is still a novel concept in Montana. 

"It's important to note there are no Montana cities that are actually using ranked choice voting at this point," said Mantell. "So I'm not sure why the state would want to preemptively take this option away from cities if it's something that they want to try."

A similar measure has been introduced in the Idaho Legislature.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.