The political right, for example, has railed against the 2022 Senate election in Alaska, where the incumbent Republican, Lisa Murkowski, a moderate, trailed a more conservative challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, in pre-election polls. Ms. Murkowski eked out a victory, however, by scooping up the second-place rankings of the 10 percent of voters who cast ballots with the sole Democratic candidate as their first choice.
Even many moderate conservatives argue that the system doesn’t truly reflect the will of the voters. “Ranked-choice voting is when you care to send the second-best,” said Anthony M. Amore, a onetime moderate Republican, now a registered independent, who helped mount a successful campaign to defeat a ranked-choice ballot initiative in Massachusetts in 2020. “It’s not the person who got the most votes. It’s a contortion of that.”
Yet ranked choice has continued to steam ahead. Proposals in Nevada, Colorado and Idaho would scrap party primary races in favor of a single primary open to all comers; the top four finishers (or, in Nevada, five) would advance to the general election.
Such final-four and final-five systems are steadily gaining favor — in part, perhaps, because a wealthy Chicago businesswoman who helped pioneer the concept, Katherine Gehl, has spent millions promoting it in referendum elections. (She is not alone; other wealthy patrons of ranked-choice campaigns include Kathryn Murdoch, the daughter-in-law of Rupert Murdoch, and Kenneth C. Griffin, a hedge-fund executive who is among the top donors of Republican Party candidates.)
But Mr. Pudner, the Wisconsin election-rule watchdog, said that concern about democracy, not money, is driving people of varied ideological stripes to support ranked choice. In Wisconsin, ranked-choice supporters are making the point that only one in five people say they approve of Congress’s performance in surveys — but members of Congress who seek re-election win their races well over nine in 10 times.
“Things aren’t working,” he said. “That’s where we do have some common ground.”
Kirsten Noyes, Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.