The Fahey Q&A with Shauna Hamilton, who’s working for more voter choice in Massachusetts

By Katie Fahey  |  September 28, 2020

After organizing the Voters Not Politicians 2018 ballot initiative that put citizens in charge of drawing Michigan’s legislative maps, Fahey became founding executive director of The People, which is forming statewide networks to promote government accountability. She interviews colleagues in the world of democracy reform each month for our Opinion section.

A few years ago, Shauna Hamilton was working in hospitality management when she met a volunteer canvasser, which led to a change of career path. Now she’s the deputy campaign manager for Yes on 2, the group behind a Massachusetts referendum on the November ballot that would switch to ranked-choice elections for most offices in the state. Her campaign was preparing for a second round of signature-gathering on ballot petitions when Covid-19 hit. Forced to abandon in-person canvassing, it won permission from the state’s top court to go online — a national first — and ultimately got 129,000 valid signatures, a state record for a ballot measure.

Our recent conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Fahey: What is ranked-choice voting?

Hamilton: You have the option to rank candidates in order of preference. You can rank as many or as few as you’d like, or still choose to vote for only one candidate. A candidate can win outright by receiving more than 50 percent of first-choice votes. If not, the one with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and those votes are reallocated to each voter’s second choice, so no vote is wasted. This process repeats until one candidate has a majority.

Fahey: Why do ranked-choice elections matter now?

Hamilton: The current system has led to a lack of choice for voters, a lack of competition in elections and crippling political division. Ranked elections give voters more power, stripping power away from special interests and big-money donors. They expand voter choice and encourage more candidates to run without the fear of vote-splitting, and would make Massachusetts’ government more representative of the state’s diversity across ages, races and genders. In a climate with so much division, ranked-choice voting is needed to build consensus across the political spectrum.