MA rejects ranked choice voting

by Peter Vashevko, News Contributor, Tamar Yeret, News Contributor & Eva Zacharakis, News Editor
graphic by Kaila Hanna

The majority of Massachusetts voters cast their ballots against implementing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), Question 2 on the ballot during the Nov. 3 elections.

RCV allows voters in state and federal congressional elections to rank one or more candidates, ensuring that the winner of the election has majority support. If no candidate gets over 50% of the votes, the candidate with the smallest percentage is eliminated. Voters who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first choice then have their second choices redistributed. This process continues until one candidate has over 50%.

Voter Choice Massachusetts, an organization dedicated to promoting RCV, proposed the ballot initiative in Massachusetts in 2019 with the hopes of implementing the new system in 2022. After collecting the requisite 10 voter signatures, they submitted it to the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey, who announced it as a certified petition on Sept. 4, 2019, meaning that the initiative met Massachusetts’s constitutional requirements.

Voter Choice filed the petition with Secretary of State William Francis Galvin’s office and collected the 80,239 signatures required to get the question sent to the state legislature for approval. On May 6, the legislature voted against RCV. For the initiative to be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot, Voter Choice then had to collect 13,374 more signatures.

Anita Pilley, a history teacher at Oak Hill Middle School, said that RCV forces voters to learn more about each candidate. 

“It puts a burden on voters to know all of the candidates really well, and that is our civic responsibility,” she said.

Junior Andrew Kupovich said that RCV will prevent voters from simply voting for the candidates in their chosen party, instead leading to more informed, research-backed decisions.

Spanish teacher Ricardo Gessa said that RCV could reduce negative competition between candidates.

“The tendency to have these vicious races and interactions [with] your opponents will be decreased,” he said. “It might move races toward the issues and not so much toward these toxic things the elections have become.”

Pilley said that RCV will give third-party candidates a better chance of winning the election.

“Now, if you have a third-party candidate running, interest in them as a candidate will actually have more weight,” she said.

Kupovich said that RCV would decrease the spoiler effect, by which candidates with similar ideologies are forced to split the vote, ultimately decreasing their chances of winning the election.

Senior Julia Roth said that RCV could encourage candidates to expand their voter basis and try to appeal to more people.

Pilley, however, said she fears the possibility of voters choosing candidates without knowing their policies.

“I wonder if someone will just put their first candidate and then just randomly list the others if they don’t know. And then that person can end up getting elected,” she said.

Many who voted against RCV cited its potential to reduce voter turnout as their reason. Bowen and Oak Hill parent Lital Asher-Dotan said that voters who are unable to educate themselves about each candidate may choose to abstain from voting.

History teacher Marcia Okun said that opponents of RCV underestimate voters by arguing that RCV is too complicated.

Roth said she believes that if RCV had been used in the September Democratic primary for the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District, now-Congressman elect Jake Auchincloss would not have won. Indeed, every candidate in that race has announced their support for RCV.

“A lot of people really felt strongly against Jake, and a lot of people were just voting for not Jake as opposed to voting for one person,” she said. “If ranked choice voting had been a thing, Jake might’ve been the last choice on a lot of ballots.”

RCV is currently used for local elections in the Massachusetts towns of Cambridge, Amherst and Easthampton.

RCV was voted down by a margin of about 10% with 54.8% of voters responding no and 45.2% responding yes, despite the pre-election polls showing RCV with a slight lead, according to the Associated Press. In Newton, however, 62.3% of voters favored Question 2.

Evan Falchuk, the board chair of the Yes on 2 campaign, said that the rejection of RCV was because the campaign was racing to educate people about the process of RCV instead of debating a “No on 2” campaign. 

Galvin, however, said that RCV’s failure to pass was due to COVID-19 and voters’ preoccupations with early and mail-in ballots.

Falchuk said that COVID-19 disrupted their plans for “ground-level” campaigning and house parties resembling those of Maine — the first and only state in the country to adopt RCV. He said that prior to the pandemic, events were held in which people filled out mock RCV ballots, only deciding on their favorite desserts instead of candidates.

The Yes on 2 Campaign held fundraisers and raised nearly $10 million, compared to $3,975.70 donated by No on 2 supporters. 

Asher-Dotan said that adapting to new systems of voting is a normal part of elections.

“It would affect the campaigns. [Candidates] would need to help people compare between them and appeal [to voters],” she said. “Every time you‘re choosing your election system, people will need to readjust to how the game is now being played.”