Question 2 on the Massachusetts general election ballot is about Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), so this is primarily for Massachusetts voters. I do believe, however, that RCV is an idea whose time has come. It may be coming to your state or municipality sometime soon, so if you want to know more — read on! I am so unabashedly for it that I helped collect signatures to get it on the ballot.
What RCV Is and How It Works
In most elections you only get to vote for your first choice. (If there are two seats open for, say, school board, you can vote for two candidates.) With RCV you can rank the candidates in order of preference. Think of the times you didn’t vote for your favorite candidate because s/he was a longshot and you didn’t want to “throw your vote away.” With RCV, no votes get thrown away.
When the votes are tallied, if no candidate has a majority of the votes cast, the candidate with the lowest total is eliminated. If that candidate was your first choice, your vote will now be reallocated to your second choice. This process continues until one candidate has a majority.
Here’s a handy video about how it works:
Why RCV Is a Good Idea
The 2020 Democratic primary for the 4th Massachusetts Congressional District (MA-04 for you political wonks) provides a great case for Ranked-Choice Voting. The incumbent, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, didn’t run for re-election. As often happens in races with no incumbent, the field of hopefuls was large: in this case, seven. Jake Auchincloss won with 22% of the vote. The second-place finisher had 21%. The rest of the votes were scattered among the other five candidates.
MA-04 is a reliably blue district. (There are currently no Republicans in the Massachusetts congressional delegation. All nine representatives and both senators are Democrats.) It’s highly likely that Auchincloss will win in the general election.
Something similar happened in MA-03 in 2018. Rep. Niki Tsongas didn’t run for re–election. In a field of 9, Lori Trahan won the Democratic primary with 21.7% of the vote. The runner-up had 21.5%. Not surprisingly, there was a hand recount before the results were certified. Trahan was elected to Congress that November.
With Ranked-Choice Voting, no recount would have been required in MA-03 in 2018. In both examples, the Democratic candidate would have advanced to the general election with the support of a majority of primary voters. Primary turnout tends to be pathetic, but 50% plus 1 is a much clearer mandate than 22% or 21.7%.
Maine was the first state to institute RCV in statewide elections. This year it will be expanded to include the presidential election. Why Maine? Well, in 2010 ultra-conservative Paul LePage was elected governor with 37.6% of the vote in a five-person race. In 2014 he was re-elected with 48.2% of the vote because the Democrat (43.4%) and the Independent (8.4%) split the anti-LePage vote. In 2016 Maine voters passed RCV in a ballot initiative. Under Maine law, LePage couldn’t seek a third successive term in 2018, but it’s reported that he’s planning to run again in 2022.
Other Perks of RCV
- Candidates with similar or compatible platforms and priorities can encourage their supporters to pick the other as #2.
- Negative campaigning is discouraged because candidates don’t want to turn off voters who might rank them #2 or #3. This might also limit the effect of the big outside money that often fuels the worst attack ads.
- Voters are encouraged to support lesser-known candidates without fear of splitting the vote (and winding up with a Governor LePage).
- The GOP, the political party that’s never met a voter-suppression technique it didn’t like, is dead set against Ranked-Choice Voting. The last thing they want is liberals, progressives, and feminists banding together to send those old white guys packing. RCV might also make it harder for “dark money” to drive wedges between various parts of the Democratic coalition.
Vote Vote Vote Vote!
This info is specific to Massachusetts. No matter what state you’re in, you can go to Vote Save America’s interactive States page and find out everything you need to know about voting in your jurisdiction.
Voter registration deadline: Saturday, October 24.
If you’re voting by mail, you should have your ballot by now. Get it in early! When you fill out the ballot envelope, make sure you give the address at which you’re registered. On Martha’s Vineyard and other rural or semi-rural areas, this is often not where we get our mail. Don’t fill in your PO box number.
Many jurisdictions have drop boxes where you can deposit your vote-by-mail ballot instead of putting it in the mail. If you have this option and can take advantage of it, it’s a good idea, especially the closer we get to Election Day.
Early voting is Saturday, October 17, through Friday, October 30. Check with your local election official (in all Vineyard towns it’s the town clerk; see the chart below) for location and hours.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (I’ll be working the polls in West Tisbury from 7 a.m. to 12 noon.) Think of it as your last chance to vote in the most important election of our lifetimes.
If you’re on Martha’s Vineyard, here’s almost everything you need to know except who and what to vote for. In Tisbury, there’s no drop box, but you can leave your ballot envelope in the town clerk’s office during open hours. Also note that the registration deadline is October 24, not the 23rd.
Susanna: Thanks for the clear explanation of RCV. A YES vote from me. Cynthia