Bill seeks to punish Ohio communities that pass ranked choice voting
A Republican Ohio senator who is reportedly thinking about a run for secretary of state in 2026 has proposed a bill to essentially ban a method of voting that’s in use in two states and in major cities, including New York City and San Francisco.
The bill seeks to stop communities from passing ranked choice voting, which allows voters to rank a number of choices in multiple-candidate races.
Senate Bill 137 from Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) would withhold payments from the state’s Local Government Fund for any community that passes ranked choice voting, which she said causes delays, confusion and lower turnout.
“To go in and rank a number of different candidates, some of whom you're not familiar with, you haven't had time to research them, who haven't been out there doing the work, can cause issues. You get to the ballot and there are eight people," Gavarone said. "It's a confusing system.”
Supporters of the idea disagree.
Republican former state representative Gene Krebs has been working with a group trying to gauge whether Ohioans want ranked choice voting, doing door-to-door surveys and other outreach. He said Gavarone's bill solves no problems — and actually does the opposite.
“It creates problems because it blocks off a possible avenue to have more intelligent conversations about policy at the local level," Krebs said. "And it also, I think, would hurt the ability of those cities to manage themselves better.”
In ranked choice voting, the last place candidate is eliminated if no one reaches a majority of votes. The second place votes of those who chose that eliminated candidate are then counted and the totals revised. The process continues until a winner emerges with a majority.
Supporters say ranked choice voting allows for more discussion of policy, not partisanship, and can hold corrupt politicians accountable. Candidates would need to appeal to a broader swath of voters, not a narrow base.
Gavarone doesn’t see it that way and said she's opposed to it despite the fact that she likely would have won had it been in place when she ran in her Congressional district’s Republican primary last year.
“It's certainly something that that would have maybe been favorable to me. But that doesn't make it right, in my opinion. I don't think ranked choice voting is the right way to go in Ohio," Gavarone said.
Krebs said the bill suggests to him that lawmakers in the Republican supermajority have seen polls showing they’re unpopular with the public.
“They're desperately trying now or, you know, trying to avoid getting overly scrutinized by the general public. Ranked choice voting, because it’s about policy, allows for a more and greater discernment as to where people are on policy," Krebs said.
Gavarone said it's the candidate's job to make connections with voters and let people know where they stand on the issues. But Krebs says banning ranked choice voting doesn’t do that, and would also hurt Republican candidates in urban counties.
No Ohio cities have ranked choice voting. But in the early 1900s, five Ohio cities — Ashtabula, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Hamilton and Toledo — had ranked choice voting.
Gavarone said it was repealed in those cities in the 1950s "because it was something the voters didn't like." But Krebs said ranked choice voting helps candidates who are women and people of color, and "corrupt party bosses and the KKK (Ku Klux Klan)" pushed for it to be eliminated.