As the dust settled after the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary election, Secretary of State Kris Kobach defeated incumbent governor Jeff Colyer by 350 votes, of 128,838 total votes (40.6%). Lagging far behind were moderate Jim Barnett (8.8%), Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer (7.8), and three other candidates, who garnered 2.2% of the vote.
In assessing the results, Republican political pros were despondent and Democrats gleeful. Republicans had nominated the candidate who was, by far, the most likely to lose the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly. Indeed, that is exactly what happened, as Kobach extremes conservatism turned off many Republicans and independents in the November contest.
It is a truism that the rules often help determine who wins a contest. Political scientists have long understood that rules are never neutral. But there are ways to produce better outcomes than Kobachs 2018 candidacy. Most notably, Republicans could have used ranked choice voting (RCV) to determine the primary winner, with voters ranking the candidates in order of their preference. If no candidate receives a clear majority (50%), the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and his or her votes are distributed to the second-place choices. This continues until a winner is receives a majority in an instant runoff.
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