By | October 22, 2020
We’re trapped in an either-or political system that can’t possibly encapsulate the wide swath of varied perspectives held by the nearly 7 million people who call Massachusetts home.
Question 2 on the Nov. 3 state ballot poses a possible solution: Ranked Choice Voting.
Theoretically, here’s the way it works: From first to last, voters list their favorite candidates in order of preference. To win, a leading candidate must also receive more than 50 percent of the total number of votes.
If no one gets a majority, the candidate who came in last is dropped and those votes automatically count toward the next choice listed on each ballot.
The process is repeated until someone receives a majority decision.
Notably, if passed into law next month, the ranked-choice system would only apply to state-level races, excluding presidential candidates.
Opponents of ranked-choice voting argue that it’s confusing and could lead some people not to vote at all. This is a fair critique. Compared to the current either-or system, ranked-choice voting is more complicated.
“The costs far outweigh the benefits,” said Paul Craney, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which is against ranked choice voting. “You don’t want to confuse people. … At the end of the day, you just want to keep the stuff very simple for people. You don’t want to overcomplicate it.”
In this, we are certainly not advocating for a system that would discourage residents from exercising their Constitutional right to choose political representation.
But just because something is complicated doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit.
Advocates of Question 2 say that, in practice, ranked choice voting is intuitive, even if the underlying rules may be technically complicated. Proponents point to vote-splitting as a major flaw of the current system.
In the 2000 presidential election, for example, the candidacy of Democrat Al Gore was arguably spoiled by Independent Ralph Nader, whose platform was generally considered to be similar. The winner was Republican George W. Bush, who was very different.
“This (current) system doesn’t really adapt to the presence of more than two candidates,” said Greg Dennis, the policy director of Voter Choice for Massachusetts, which is in favor of the measure. “As soon as you get a third candidate, there’s this vote-splitting effect. If we want more than two choices, we have the wrong system for that.”
Without a real-world test, it’s impossible to tell how a ranked-choice system would play out locally, although there is precedence elsewhere. There are numerous other democratic countries that use some sort of ranked-choice system, including Australia and the United Kingdom. Within the United States, Maine approved ranked-choice voting for state elections in 2016 and more recently last month for the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
Across the nation, many cities and towns have passed ranked choice bylaws for certain contests — including Cambridge, Amherst and Easthampton.
At least for now, there aren’t many viable political parties besides Democrat and Republican. A ranked-choice system could help loosen the logjam of America’s current ideological quagmire. It would allow constituents on both sides of the aisle to vote their conscience — as opposed to the lesser of two evils — without throwing away their vote.
More than that, if Question 2 passes on Nov. 3, the platforms of alternative candidates could suddenly gain clout, leading to beneficial political discourse in both home and legislative settings.
It’s time to break the gridlock.
We believe a ranked-choice voting system could help move American democracy away from the deeply entrenched divide that’s currently holding hostage any sort of forward progress.