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By Stephen Dravis :: iberkshires.com
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League of Women Voters Endorses Question 2, Ranked-Choice Voting
By Stephen Dravis :: iberkshires.com
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Advocates for ranked-choice voting, the second public question on the ballot in November's election, point to last year's mayoral recall election in Fall River as Exhibit A when making their case.
Anne Skinner also points to a different election -- far less recent but far more impactful for all Bay Staters.
"There's very little question that Ralph Nader threw the election in Florida to [George W.] Bush," Skinner said, referring to the 2000 presidential contest. "[Nader] had 95,000 votes, and the margin of victory was less than 1,000. That creates a lot of bitterness toward third-party candidates.
"This would allow them to be considered on their merits rather than as spoilers."
Ranked-choice, or instant runoff, voting allows voters to select their truly preferred candidate and not have to "settle" for the most electable choice.
The question, if passed, would radically change the way voters cast ballots in Massachusetts for statewide offices (like governor), statewide legislative offices and federal congressional offices starting in 2022.
Rather than making one selection in a race with three or more candidates, each voter would be allowed to rank their choices numerically, starting with a "1" for his or her first choice.
If one candidate earned more than 50 percent of the first place votes, he or she would be declared the winner. If not, then the candidate who comes in last would be eliminated, and his or her second place votes would be allotted to the remaining candidates. If no one emerged from "Round 2" with a majority, then the remaining candidate with the lowest vote total would be eliminated and his or her second- and third-place votes are distributed as the voters designated and so on until a winner is declared.
Proponents say ranked-choice voting more accurately captures the true preferences of voters and, through voter empowerment, could increase voter engagement and turnout.
That is one reason the Massachusetts chapter of the League of Women Voters has endorsed passage of Question 2 on Nov 3.
Skinner, the president of the Williamstown League of Women Voters, also points to the "spoiler" problem that impacts voters and third-party candidates alike.
In the 2000 presidential race Skinner cited, historians and political scientists argue that the voters (actually north of 97,000) who pulled the lever for Nader and the Green Party likely would have chosen Democrat Al Gore as their second or, at worst, third choice (no other third-party candidate received more than 17.500 votes in the Sunshine State that November).
Bush won the state and its decisive Electoral College votes with fewer than 49 percent of the state's votes -- a plurality but not a majority. Had ranked-choice voting been in effect then, advocates say, subsequent rounds of tabulation would have been run, incorporating voters' second-, third- and fourth-place preferences until either Bush or Gore had attained a majority.
An even more stark example of the pitfalls of plurality votes came in the March 12, 2019, recall election in Fall River.
That day, the city's residents voted by a margin of 61-39 to recall their mayor. But on the same ballot, the mayor faced off against four other candidates and won back his post with a plurality (35.4 percent) of the votes.
"What people say is three of those four people should have seen the writing on the wall and dropped out," Skinner said. "But that's hard on the process. We say democracy is not a spectator sport. We want people to participate. But right now, their participation can lead to something that is not actually what they had in mind."
Question 2 is opposed by the right-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which provided the secretary of state with arguments against ranked-choice voting for the commonwealth's votes guide.
According to the Boston-based group, ranked-choice voting is "confusing" for voters and it "forces voters to guess the candidates who will remain standing in multiple voting rounds."
Skinner dismissed the first argument.
"I think a lot of us are already familiar with the idea of ranking something," she said. "I get surveys all the time that ask me to rank things in order. It's the same thing.
And proponents of instant runoffs note that no one is "forced" to rate any of the candidates. If there are five names on the ballot, an individual voter can rank one, two, any number of them or none at all in a given race.
Opponents of ranked-choice voting point to the city of Burlington, Vt., which used instant runoffs for its mayoral elections in 2006 and 2009 but repealed the practice after a vote that went three rounds of tabulation and saw the eventual winner claim the seat after drawing just 29 percent of the first-place votes after round one (the eventual runner-up had 33 percent of the first-round votes).
Skinner is not bothered by the notion that the person who gets the most "first-place" votes may not always win an election conducted with ranked-choice voting.
"There's no question that the person leading at the end of the first round may not end up the final winner, but the suggestion then is that that person didn't enjoy majority support," she said. "If you think we should have majority rule rather than plurality rule, that [ranked-choice voting] result affects the person who lost, but it's an accurate reflection of the wishes of the constituency."
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