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Arlington Town Meeting approves Ranked Choice Voting

Jesse Collings :: Wicked Local

Arlington Town Meeting approved a home-rule petition that will let voters decide if Ranked Choice Voting will be the future for Arlington elections.

Town Meeting members approved RCV to appear on a ballot during a future election in Arlington during Town Meeting on May 5.

RCV encourages voters to rank the candidates based on preference, so if four candidates are running for a position, voters will be asked to rank them one to four based on their preference. If the majority needed to win the election is not met, the candidate who received the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. The candidates who ranked second on the ballots that voted for the eliminated candidate will then receive those votes. The process is repeated until a majority is reached.

The method was recommended by the Arlington Election Modernization Committee. Committee chair Greg Dennis put together a video presentation before the article was discussed at Town Meeting, noting that the benefits of RCV include removing the fear of vote-splitting, which will encourage a greater diversity of candidates.

"That threat of vote-splitting can cause prospective candidates to bow out of the race before it has even begun," Dennis said. "Fewer candidates mean a less diverse candidate pool, it means less candidates driving voters to the polls and sometimes it leads to campaigns being less welcoming and engaging as they could be."

Proponents of Ranked Choice Voting argue that the system also promotes cleaner, more positive campaigns since candidates are also running to be the second or third choice of prospective voters.

Some Town Meeting members did vote against the measure, with the arguments being that RCV is unnecessarily complicated and that the current voting system has proven to be sufficient.

The elections that will use RCV in Arlington will only be for townwide positions, such as the Select Board and School Committee. RCV would not be used for Town Meeting Member elections or smaller elections in the community that is not for townwide positions. Town Meeting members did reject an amendment that would have reduced RCV to being used only when one seat is up for election.

RCV has currently been approved for use in Amherst, Cambridge and Easthampton. Maine uses RCV for all of its state and federal elections, and other states use RCV to various extents. Massachusetts attempted to pass RCV for all statewide and federal elections last November, but the motion failed with 54% of voters disapproving of RCV.

Dennis told The Advocate that assuming approval from the voters, RCV would likely appear in Arlington for the first time in 2023.

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