Once Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman dropped out of the Republican presidential nomination contest, their South Carolina and Florida backers who cast ballots early, including many military voters living overseas, essentially wasted their votes. They voted for candidates who didn’t want their support. Florida and South Carolina voters are not alone. Several upcoming primary states allow “no excuse required” absentee voting, meaning a far higher percentage of votes are now cast early. More than a quarter of Florida’s 400,000 absentee ballots had already been returned before Perry and Huntsman withdrew, and in 2008 nearly two-thirds of all Tennessee ballots were cast early. If you add in other states, more than a million voters have received ballots with the names of Perry, Huntsman and fellow candidate dropouts Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). Although many “early voters” cast ballots close to Election Day, that option isn’t available to service personnel whose ballot may need to traverse 10,000 miles.
Florida and South Carolina election returns demonstrate the concrete effect of candidate withdrawals. For instance, in eight populous Florida counties, almost three-quarters of the 7,317 votes for Perry, Huntsman and Bachmann were cast early. In South Carolina, those candidates earned only 0.5 percent of Election Day votes but nearly 10 times that share of absentee votes. The irony is painful. Many military voters serving their country cast ballots that effectively didn’t count. The 2009 Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act sought to protect voting rights for voters overseas but did not address the unique character of primaries in which major candidates inevitably withdraw.
Fortunately, there is a proven solution, both for military voters and the millions of others who, for reasons of necessity or preference, vote early. Ranked-choice voting re-empowers these voters by allowing them to return a single ballot on which they rank candidates in order of preference.