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Ranked-Choice Voting Supporters Planning To Try Ballot Question in 2020

August 1, 2019

Supporters of ranked-choice voting plan to try to get a referendum on the 2020 Massachusetts general election ballot.

“While we will continue advocating for the successful passage of two ranked choice voting bills before the Legislature this session, we are finalizing language to submit to the Attorney General as the first step toward getting RCV before the voters on the 2020 ballot,” said Emily Fitzmaurice, a spokesman for Voter Choice Massachusetts, in a statement to State House News Service.

Massachusetts, like most of the rest of the country, uses a so-called first-past-the-post system to determine the winner of an election, meaning the candidate with the highest number of votes wins, even if it’s not a majority of the votes cast.

In ranked choice, voters are given the option of ranking candidates, with 1 going to the voter’s first choice, 2 going to the voter’s second choice, and so on.

In a case where no candidate gets a majority of the votes, voters’ down-ballot choices come into play. Typically, the candidate who came in last in first-choice votes is eliminated and those voters’ second-choice picks are redistributed to the other candidates as if they were votes. If one of the remaining candidates garners a majority by this process, that candidate is declared the winner.

If not, the process continues, with the new last-place finisher eliminated and the ballots of the voters for that candidate studied for lower-ranked choices to be redistributed to the remaining candidates.

Whenever one of the remaining candidates gets a majority of first-choice votes and lower-choice selections, that candidate is declared the winner.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say that in races with three or more candidates it gives voters the option of voting for the candidate they prefer without having as much fear that by doing so they will inadvertently help a candidate they don’t like win the election, since a lesser-of-evils candidate may still benefit from their second (or lower) selection. They also note that it prevents a candidate with less than 50 percent support from first-choice votes from winning, which they say is a good thing.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting say it gives individual voters multiple bites at the apple when the point of voting is to pick one candidate and vote for that candidate. They also consider it needlessly complicated, and say it may not always offer a result that is satisfactory. They also say winning an election with less than 50 percent of the votes isn’t a bad thing.

Maine adopted a version of ranked-choice voting in 2016. In the November 2018 general election the process flipped an election result. Bruce Poliquin, at the time a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maine’s Second Congressional District, won a plurality of the vote but less than 50 percent. The ranked-choice process eliminated two left-of-center alternative-party candidates and gave enough of their lower-choice selections to the Democrat, Jared Golden, to have him declared the winner of the election.

Then-Governor Paul LePage, a Republican and an opponent of ranked-choice voting, wrote “Stolen Election” on the document certifying Golden’s victory.

 

LePage won two elections for governor of Maine, in 2010 and 2014, both with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Two bills that would establish ranked-choice voting are before the Massachusetts Legislature.

Massachusetts House Bill 635 would enable towns and cities to use ranked-choice voting in municipal elections. (Cambridge uses a version of ranked-choice voting, but through a special act of the state Legislature.)

Massachusetts Senate Bill 414 would establish ranked-choice voting statewide.

The bills have been referred to the Joint Committee on Election Laws of the state Legislature but haven’t yet gotten a hearing.

The deadline for submitting language for statewide referendum ballot questions to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office is Wednesday, August 7.

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