If you’ve turned on your TV in the past month, you’ve no doubt seen a commercial for Question 1 on the November election ballot, Right to Repair. What you may not have seen, though, is a commercial for Question 2, Ranked Choice Voting. In fact, this article right here may be the first time you’re even hearing about such a question.
But what is Ranked Choice Voting? According to Rev. Vernon K. Walker, Public Policy Director of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts, it is an “opportunity for voters to rank their candidates, in order of preference, for state-wide races.”
This means voters can’t rank their preferred presidential candidates (sorry, Kanye West supporters), but if it passes, it means they can rank their preferred candidates in local races such as State Representative and State Senator or US Representative and US Senator.
Right now, Massachusetts has a plurality system whereby the winner is the candidate who receives the most votes, regardless of the percentage of votes he or she receives. For example, if five candidates ran for State Representative to serve Reading or Stoneham or Burlington or wherever, and the winner received 19 percent of the vote, he or she would win despite 81 percent of voters saying “you’re not our choice.”
However, as Rev. Walker notes, “Ranked Choice Voting gives people more choice and more freedom. It’s simple, fair and easy.”
Under Ranked Choice Voting, a candidate, in a race of three or more people, needs 50 percent of the vote to win. How it goes: voters rank their candidates in order of preference; if a candidate doesn’t receive 50 percent of the vote, the candidate who receives the least amount of votes is “eliminated” and the votes are re-tallied with the eliminated candidate’s votes going to whomever those voters ranked second. If no one receives 50 percent after the re-tally, then the process continues by “eliminating” the lowest vote getter and giving his or her votes to whomever his or her voters ranked next highest.
The process continues until one candidate receives 50 percent of the vote.
“The winners more accurately reflect the will of the people,” Rev. Walker pointed out.
For those voters who go to the polls only to vote for one specific candidate, they can rank that candidate in all the available spaces (if there are five candidates, a voter could rank his or her preferred choice in all five slots). However, if that candidate is eliminated, the voter would have no more votes to give out thereby making his or her vote basically null-and-void.
If passed, Ranked Choice Voting would occur for both the primary and general elections by 2022.
Rev. Walker believes this gives more power to regular citizens and it would help smaller, more grassroots campaigns (not to mention women and minority candidates).
“Politics is tearing us apart,” the Reverend admitted, “but Ranked Choice Voting would take out the big money.”
He added how candidates would have to appeal to more people. Rev. Walker likened it to going to an ice cream shop that doesn’t have your favorite flavor, but they still have other flavors from which to choose.
“Ranked Choice Voting gives voters more power,” the Reverend pushed.
One state has already adopted this measure. In 2016, Maine voters approved Ranked Choice Voting, and even though the Republican party attempted to challenge it, just last week Maine’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the voters and the state’s Democratic secretary of state.
According to an article on CNN, the five-judge panel ruled last week the secretary of state acted correctly in rejecting a ballot referendum on the future of Ranked Choice Voting, which would have meant Maine couldn’t use the method during this year’s election.
However some opponents of rank choice voting argue the system is to new, will require education about how it works, ballots and the counting of the ballots will be more expensive, the “vetting” is less clear, and you could still fail to get a candidate with a majority.
It is new - A certain percentage of people don’t like change. This can make them unhappy, or might make them decide to not participate.
It will require education about how it works - Voters may leave the polling location confused or leave without voting properly.
The ballots and the counting of the ballots will be more expensive - It either requires a computer system, or is labor intensive to count by hand, with potential risk of errors. But security and integrity of our elections will require having a “paper trail” so that we can do recounts, and know the results are valid.
The “vetting” is less clear - The U.S., has very few requirements for what a person must do to run for office and be on a ballot. With primaries, the idea is that there is so much publicity that voters in later primaries, and then in the general election, will have learned the candidates’ weaknesses and be better informed before voting. If there are no primaries, the public may need to figure out how to “vet” candidates better, or pass more requirements for candidates to qualify to run.
Some argue you could still fail to get a candidate with a majority. If enough voters do not give any votes to their lower choices, then you could fail to get a candidate who ends up with a majority, after all.
What if 10 candidates run? Voters would be expected to rank all 10 candidates and may know nothing about many of the candidates other than there top choice.
But in Massachusetts, Ranked Choice Voting has at least one high-profile supporter in Senator (and former Democratic presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren. In an opinion piece published in the Boston Globe, she wrote: “To defend our democracy, we need to fortify it. One way is by strengthening the principle of majority rule while defending and protecting the rights of all individuals, including those in the minority. Massachusetts voters have a chance to do just that in November by approving ranked-choice voting on Question 2.”
Rev. Walker agrees: “Ranked Choice Voting gives voters a stronger voice. It can empower and reenergize voters.”
The Reverend also noted how New York City approved Rank Choice Voting for its mayoral and city council races.
Locally, had Ranked Choice Voting existed in 2020, it may have impacted the race for US Senate. Although most people are aware of the race between incumbent US Senator Ed Markey and challenger US Congressman Joe Kennedy III, Rev. Walker notes there were actually other candidates in the race who dropped out early. With Ranked Choice Voting, those candidates may have stayed until the end.
“This would discourage negative campaigns,” the Reverend suggested, “and reduce the ‘spoiler’ effect.”
Spoiler candidates generally siphon off votes from one major party candidate to help the other, major party candidate. For example, many people see Kanye West as a spoiler candidate for Democrat Joe Biden. Or, some people believe Ross Perot spoiled President George H. W. Bush’s reelection chances against President Bill Clinton back in 1992.
Rev. Walker also said instituting Ranked Choice Voting would eliminate the need to choose “the lesser of two evils.”
He added: “This will incentivize candidates to pay more attention.”
Besides Sen. Warren, Rev. Walker said 100s of elected officials in the state have endorsed Ranked Choice Voting, plus various unions.
“This will strengthen our democracy and make sure every vote counts,” he stressed.
But a recently published report questions whether rank choice voting would survive a legal challenge.
As reported in the Globe earlier this week, “Ranked-choice voting, as proposed in Question 2, would usher in a “dramatic shift” to Massachusetts elections, though many of its long-term ramifications — on everything from turnout to campaign spending — remain largely unknown, the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University said in a newly released report.
“There “may be a constitutional problem" should voters approve the system, according to the report, which did not take a position on the ballot question. The state’s constitution says that for state offices, the person “having the highest number of votes” is the winner — wording that creates a potential conflict with a ranked-choice system, where the person with the most initial votes may not necessarily win.
“Should a legal challenge prevail, it could block ranked-choice voting from being used in general elections for state offices, according to the center’s report. Primaries and federal elections, it says, would not be affected.”
For more information on Ranked Choice Voting, the League of Women Voters in Winchester is holding a “Yes on 2” event on Monday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.
Please note: You need to register here (https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYvd-qvqDgoGNwkuh9vEJGTCKauhw7tV2Xy%20) to attend this LIVE VIRTUAL EVENT or to receive a link to the recording via email the next day.