Rev. Vernon K. Walker: Ranked choice voting can promote equality

Helps remove extreme partisanship from political process


By VERNON K. WALKER  |  June 25, 2020


“I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, 1967

Dr. King spoke those words to a crowd of 400,000 exactly one year before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The words have never lost their power, their meaning, or their relevance. But it is clear that since then, too little has changed for marginalized communities of color in this country.

This time, however, it does feel different. It does feel like a revolution of values and that more Americans are listening and ready to forge a new path towards creating a more just and equitable world. But what has been obstructing real change since, say, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, has not necessarily been a lack of political will to institute fairer policy, but rather the division, dysfunction, and ugly lack of civility in our politics that seems to grow worse each passing year. This November, residents of the Commonwealth will likely have an opportunity to address many of the root causes of these political defects by supporting a Massachusetts ranked choice voting referendum.

Ranked choice voting would be a simple change to the way we vote that gives voters the power to rank candidates on the ballot in order of their preference: top choice, second choice, third, and so on. If one candidate achieves a majority of the first choice votes, the majority candidate takes office. But in the event that no candidate achieves a majority in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from consideration, and those votes will then count towards the next choice on each voter’s ballot. The process continues until one candidate has majority support, ensuring that candidates with a broad base of support are vaulted into positions of power. It would take power away from candidates with excellent name recognition or large donation coffers and spread it across the ballot sheet.

So, what’s the connection between ranked choice voting and issues of equality, or Black Lives Matter, or the sustained protests that have swept the country?