Some Democratic Ranked-Choice Voting Advocates Unhappy With 19th Suffolk District Results

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Former Winthrop Town Council President Jeff Turco won the Democratic primary in the race for state representative in the 19th Suffolk District on Tuesday night — and many progressives were not happy with the result. Some are blaming the state’s method of voting.

The special election primary yesterday took place to determine a Democratic nominee in the Tuesday, March 30 general election to fill a seat vacated by former House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), who resigned in December to take a job at Northeastern University.

As a result of the conservative Democrat’s win, some left-wing Democrats voiced support for ranked-choice voting, which would have enabled the lower-choice selections of voters to determine the winner, since none of the four candidates won a majority of votes.

Turco won the four-way race with 36.2 percent of the vote (1,706 votes). The runner-up, Revere resident Juan Jaramillo, got 30 percent of the vote (1,413 votes). Jaramillo, the Bernie Sanders-backed candidate in the race, served as budget director for state Senator Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop) and is the political coordinator for 32BJ SEIU (Service Employees International Union). He has also said he is a former illegal immigrant.

Winthrop resident Alicia DelVento finished in third place with 26 percent of the vote (1,224 votes). DelVento served as a communications director and policy adviser to state Representative Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough) and as a legislative aide to then-state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain). And Winthrop resident Valentino Capobianco had a distant fourth-place finish with 7.7 percent support (361 votes). Capobianco served as the chief of staff for state Senator Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough) before running for state representative. However, Capobianco was the subject of controversy in the race amid sexual misconduct allegations — from both men and women. In response to these allegations, he lost the endorsements of Feeney, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton). Capobianco has denied the charges.

Since there were four candidates in the race and the winner, a more conservative pro-life Democrat, who voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and donated to Republican causes and candidates last year, received less than 50 percent of the vote, the victory renewed the Left’s calls for changing the Commonwealth’s election rules. Supporters of ranked-choice voting tried unsuccessfully to get voters to enact ranked-choice voting at the ballot box last November. The measure failed with 45.2 percent of voters supporting it and 54.8 percent opposing. It was Question 2 on the ballot.

Evan Falchuk, who served as the spokesman for the Yes on 2 campaign last year, tweeted out, “Election winners should have to earn the support of a majority of voters in an instant runoff. Ranked Choice Voting.”

Former Planned Parenthood employee Jesse Mermell, who unsuccessfully ran against U.S. Representative Jake Auchincloss (D-Newton) in a nine-way Democratic primary in the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District last year, tweeted out, “RANKED CHOICE VOTING” with clapping hands after each word. This came in response to a tweet from another candidate who was in her race, Dave Cavell, that said, “All together now: RANKED CHOICE VOTING” where he included clapping hands after each word. Mermell came in second in that race, receiving 21 percent of the vote, as Auchincloss got 22.4 percent.

And Boston Globe freelance writer Miles Howard agreed, tweeting out, “Shooting down ranked choice voting last year was the political equivalent of Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes. Just sad all around. #mapoli”.

Additionally, Andrew Flowers tweeted, “RANKED CHOICE VOTING” in response to a tweet with the final results of the election. The Democrat from Walpole ran a tight race in the primary against Ted Philips of Sharon. Philips beat him 51.7 percent to 48.2 percent and went on to win the general election uncontested.

Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, who helped defeat Question 2 at the ballot last November, said the ranked-choice voting advocates are being sore losers because they don’t like Turco.

“The proponents of RCV are once again proving why their logic is flawed,” Craney told NewBostonPost in an email message. “They want to impose RCV because they don’t like an outcome of an election, an election in which the voters made their decision. Political activists see RCV as a vehicle to game the system so that a certain outcome is more likely instead of the will of the voters reflected.”

So what is ranked-choice voting? In an election with ranked-choice voting, people can rank their preferred candidates in order of preference.

With ranked-choice voting, if a candidate receives more than half of the first-place votes, the candidate wins the election. That’s the same as the current first-past-the-post system. 

However, what changes in ranked-choice voting is that if no candidate receives more than half of the first-place votes, then the bottom candidate is eliminated, and the second-choice selections of voters who picked that bottom-finishing candidate first are distributed to the remaining candidates. Election officials then add the first-place votes and the second-choice selections for each candidate together.

If no candidate has the majority after that, the second-from-the-bottom candidate is eliminated, and the second-choice selections of voters for that candidate are distributed among the surviving candidates. Then, if the second-choice selections are for a candidate who has already been eliminated, the candidate’s voters’ third-choice selections are distributed to the remaining candidates. This process repeats until there are only two candidates remaining and the candidate with the higher number is declared the winner.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting argue that candidates should have majority support to win an election and that this method encourages people to pick the candidates they like best rather than settling for the lesser of two evils.

Opponents say it is not only a confusing system that leads to more invalid ballots, but it gives some voters more power than others by counting their second, third, fourth, or even lower choice as much as someone else’s first choice. Others see nothing wrong with candidates winning a race with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting who are unhappy with Turco’s win in the Winthrop-and-Revere state representative primary assume that voters for the other three Democrats — each of whom ran significantly further left than Turco — would likely have picked one of the other left-wingers as their second and third selections rather than Turco, meaning that one of the three would likely have emerged with the victory.

Something comparable happened in a four-way race for Congress in central and northern Maine in November 2018. The incumbent Republican got a plurality under 50 percent in a four-way race in the general election, but enough voters for the third-place and fourth-place candidates picked the second-place Democrat as their second or third choice that the Democrat was declared the winner.

In Massachusetts, winning the Democratic primary makes Turco a heavy favorite to win the March 30 general election. He will have two opponents on the ballot in that election:  Winthrop resident and Republican Paul Caruccio, and Winthrop resident and unenrolled candidate Richard Fucillo.

Caruccio has already run for state representative twice (2012 and 2014) against DeLeo. He received less than than 30 percent of the vote in each race, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.

The Nineteenth Suffolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives includes all of the town of Winthrop and parts of the eastern and central portions of the city of Revere (Ward 1, precincts 1 and 2; Ward 2; Ward 3, precincts 2 and 3; and Ward 5, precinct 3).