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Ranked-Choice Bill Hits Beacon Hill

February 26, 2019

A bill that would provide so-called ranked-choice voting statewide has been filed in the Massachusetts Legislature.

The chief sponsor of SD. 768 is state Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester).

Ranked-choice, which is the law in Maine since after the November 2016 general election, allows voters to pick candidates in order of approval, with the idea that if no one gets a majority of votes then the voters’ lower-choice selections would be counted.

Ranked-choice schemes abound. In Maine’s version of ranked-choice, it flipped an apparent election-day victory for an incumbent into a loss in November 2018.

U.S. Representative Bruce Polliquin, a Republican, received a plurality of votes in over his Democratic challenger, Jared Golden. But there were four candidates on the general election ballot and no one got a majority of the votes cast.

So under the state’s new ranked-choice system, election officials eliminated the fourth-place finisher but counted the second-choice selections of voters who voted for the fourth-place finisher and distributed them to the top three vote-getters. That didn’t result in a majority, either.

So election officials eliminated the third-place vote-getter and distributed the second-choice selections of voters for the third-place candidate. If any voters for the fourth-place candidate selected the third-place candidate as their second choice, then in the third round of counting the third-choice selections of voters for the fourth-place candidate were applied to the remaining top two voter-getters. That resulted in a majority for Golden.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say it’s bad when a candidate wins an election with less than a majority of the vote and that ranked-choice allows voters to vote for the candidate they want rather than the lesser-of-evils, with the knowledge that their second or third choices may eventually count and help one of those candidates to win the election.

Opponents say there’s nothing wrong with the candidate who gets the highest number of votes winning an election and that ranked-choice is unnecessarily complicated and wrongly allows voters for marginal candidates to determine the outcomes of races.

Some states, such as Louisiana and Georgia, require a run-off between the top two vote-getters in cases where no candidate gets a majority of the general-election vote.

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