Opinion: A Vote For Ranked Choice Voting Is a Vote For Good Governance


By Stan Rosenberg and Evan Falchuk

One of the most difficult things to find in American politics these days is consensus. Voters agree on so many issues, but no matter who we elect it seems that some of our representatives don’t know how to act. We need to do more than elect good candidates. We need to make structural reforms that make it possible for the majority to be heard.

On November 3, all of us in Massachusetts have a chance to make an important upgrade to our electoral system that will do just that: make our votes in future elections even more meaningful. Question 2 will help restore functionality — and unity — to our politics by implementing ranked choice voting (RCV) in Massachusetts starting in 2022.

Voters around the world have used RCV for decades. RCV rewards candidates who appeal to a majority of voters, not just their base, eliminates the problem of “spoiler” candidates and vote-splitting, and helps restore functionality to our legislative bodies. Under RCV, voters have more choice and more voice. Voters never have to worry they are wasting their vote, and don’t have to feel like they’re stuck choosing between the lesser of two evils.

In the RCV system, instead of voting for only one candidate, voters can rank them, in order of who they like the most. In the first round of counting, if a candidate has a majority of the vote, the election is over and that candidate wins. If no one has a majority, then the person who came in last is eliminated, and all of that candidate’s first place votes transfer to those voters’ second choice. This process keeps going until one candidate wins a majority. 

Today candidates with similar views or backgrounds are pressured to drop out of the race out of fear they will be spoilers and make it possible for someone to win in a crowded field with as little as 20% of the vote. It just happened again in the 4th Congressional District. In that race, nine talented candidates split the vote so that the winner ended up with only 22% of the vote. The candidates in that race, including the winner, support ranked choice voting, with the second place finisher calling it the “poster child” for RCV. We agree.

In the current system, candidates have an incentive to run negative campaigns and drive down voter turnout among the other candidates’ “base.” Likewise, although large numbers of voters say they want independent candidates, under the current system those candidates don’t stand a chance. Voters report feeling like a vote for an independent is a “wasted vote,” so they end up voting based on who they dislike the least. It makes for a dismal and cynical public discourse.

RCV gets rid of these problems. You can always vote for who you truly like first, and if he or she ends up eliminated, your vote still counts towards your second choice. RCV discourages divisive campaigns, because every candidate needs to convince every other candidate’s supporters to support them as their second or even third choice. Imagine if candidates who disagreed on an issue didn’t accuse the other of being bad or unpatriotic but instead complimented each other for their thoughtful approach to the issue and tried to find common ground. RCV makes that into a reality.

Because ranked choice voting produces winners who truly represent the majority, voters can expect their elected officials to actually work with their colleagues in the legislature to deliver on the promises they made on the campaign trail. Too often, legislative bodies ranging from local city councils to the United States Congress are crippled by partisan politics and refusal to compromise across the aisle. RCV grants voters even more power over the results of election, making it easier for voters to hold elected officials accountable for their work. Under RCV, it is in the best interest of lawmakers to work for all of their constituents, knowing they’ll have to answer to the majority of voters on Election Day— not just their “base.”

We support ranked choice voting because it is a simple but important upgrade to our democracy. More than ever, America needs change that will produce better candidates, better governance, and a better public discourse. Join us in voting “yes” on Question 2 this November – our Commonwealth will be better for it.

Stan Rosenberg is an Amherst resident. As a former State Senator he was Senate President and a  one time  Chair of the Legislature’s Election Laws Committee. 

Evan Falchuk is the Chair of the Yes on 2 Campaign. 

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4 thoughts on “Opinion: A Vote For Ranked Choice Voting Is a Vote For Good Governance

  1. Since RCV is mandated also by our Amherst Charter, I have been trying to find out the costs to the Town to implement it.
    Do you know what new software and hardware will be needed and how much it will cost to implement RCV? Is the Commonwealth
    offering any subsidies to Towns to defray some of these costs? I shall appreciate whatever information readers can offer.

  2. We’ve been talking to the Secretary of State’s office and with city and town clerks about this for some time. It’s not difficult to administer a ranked choice voting election.

    In Maine’s first use of RCV in 2018, state and local officials used existing voting machines, had 3 months to prepare and incurred an additional cost of just over $125,000 statewide .

    In Massachusetts, we can also use existing voting machines. The particulars are obviously up to the Secretary of State, but there will be 2+ years to prepare for our first RCV election in Massachusetts. We don’t anticipate any difficulty.

    Finally , the state has millions of dollars available from the federal government to upgrade voting technology that can be used to offset state and local costs to implement RCV.

  3. The example of a 22% plurality winner is interesting, but why is that a threat to democracy, which not the same as “majority rule” – in fact, other legislative systems (like Germany’s Bundestag) can offer minority perspectives a role in governing coalitions, often leading to greater diversity in the political discourse that informs the ultimate policy decisions.

    It seems to this citizen — who expects to be more than just “a voter” — that an even bigger obstacle to having diverse perspectives represented in our government is the use of party-controlled primaries; combined with a “winner take all” voting systems — of which RCV is just another form — it’s not clear how it will help overcome this obstacle.

    If RCV were coupled with non-partisan primaries, that would go part-way to addressing the problem of limited political diversity; however, an even deeper change in our governing systems — restoring Town Meeting at the local level, and developing a something akin to parliamentary/coalition-style representation at the broader level, might go further.

  4. Massachusetts law allows registered voters who are not enrolled in a political party to take the primary ballot of any party they choose . This is considered by diehard partisans a weakening of political parties . Many states only allow a party member to take the ballot of the party in which they are enrolled. That means independents do not get to vote in the primary .

    Since the largest share of voters in MA are “unenrolled” ( independents ) , the second largest group Democrats , followed far behind by republicans , unenrolled voters are significant influencers of the selection of nominees in a primary based on the party ballot they choose.

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