Ranked-choice voting to appear as ballot question in November

David Mclellan :: Itemlive
During the Nov. 3 election, Massachusetts voters will be asked whether they want to keep the state’s “pick-one” voting system...

SWAMPSCOTT — During the Nov. 3 election, Massachusetts voters will be asked whether they want to keep the state’s “pick-one” voting system, or switch to a different system known as “ranked-choice voting.”

Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot this November calls for a switch to the latter system, which proponents say is more democratic, and eliminates some problems with the current voting system, including voters choosing “the lesser of two evils,” said Billy Jackson, who in 2016 helped found Voter Choice for Massachusetts, the organization that has pushed for the ranked-choice voting ballot question.

Ranked-choice voting is a system of voting in which voters list their preferred, second-favorite, and third-favorite candidate on their ballot sheet while voting, rather than just picking and voting for one candidate under Massachusetts’ current system.

If Question 2 passes, Massachusetts would adopt ranked-choice voting for primary and general elections for all statewide offices, state legislative offices, and federal congressional offices in 2022. It would not apply to presidential primaries or elections, or elections for municipal offices.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting, such as conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, say the system gives undue attention to “marginal” candidates. However, Voter Choice for Massachusetts has now received endorsement from several prominent people who have been named “honorary co-chairs” for the campaign, including former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and former Republican Gov. Bill Weld.

“It’s been proven that not only does ranked choice voting discourage negative campaigning, but it provides more choices for voters while increasing participation in our elections. This is what true representative democracy is about,” Patrick said.

Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Treasury secretary and professor emeritus at Harvard University, was also named an honorary co-chair and said “ranked-choice voting is the single most important change we can make to improve American democracy.”

Jackson said the movement to adopt ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts is nonpartisan, and it has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Libertarian, Green-Rainbow, and Democratic parties.

By doing away with the pick-one system, Jackson said voters will no longer have to “settle” and choose the “lesser of two evils” — a candidate who is perceived as having a chance to win, but is otherwise not preferred — when voting. With ranked-choice voting, voters may also be more likely to vote for minor-party candidates.

“(Under the current system), a lot of people feel like they want to vote for a Libertarian or Green party candidate, but they would be throwing their vote away,” Jackson said.

Jackson also said, with ranked-choice voting, people will no longer be able to blame third-party candidates as “spoilers” for having “stolen votes” from Democrats or Republicans because the system allows people to vote for more than one candidate.

Voter Choice for Massachusetts was able to meet the threshold of 13,374 signatures required to get the question on the ballot, despite having to campaign largely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the inability to campaign as much in public places such as shopping plazas.

Jackson helped found Voter Choice for Massachusetts after nine years of researching and teaching alternative voting methods to students and developing his own opinions on the current voting system. He’d ask people, “Have you ever had to vote for the lesser of two evils?” with the answer most often being “Yes.” In 2016, when Maine adopted ranked-choice voting, Jackson said he knew Massachusetts voters had an opportunity to go the same direction.

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David Mclellan David McLellan grew up in Essex County, and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2017 with a degree in journalism. He worked at several daily newspapers in western Massachusetts.

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