4th Congressional District results boost calls for ranked-choice voting

Calls for ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts are gaining steam this week after an open-seat congressional primary ended for the second cycle in a row with...

Calls for ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts are gaining steam this week after an open-seat congressional primary ended for the second cycle in a row with the winner receiving less than a quarter of the vote.

© Provided by Boston Herald BOSTON, MA: September 1, 2020: Voters cast their ballots in the state primary election at the Boston Public Library Copley Square polling station, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

“That race is the poster child for ranked-choice voting,” Evan Falchuk, said board chairman of the “Yes on 2” campaign that’s working to pass a state ballot initiative on ranked-choice voting this November, about the 4th Congressional District Democratic primary.

“You had seven really good candidates, and the winner ends up with 23%,” said Falchuk, a former independent Massachusetts gubernatorial hopeful. “In a democracy, the winner should be the person who gets the majority.”

Jake Auchincloss, a Newton city councilor and former Marine, narrowly won the 4th District primary this week with 22.4% of the vote. Second-place finisher Jesse Mermell earned 21.1%, third-place candidate Becky Grossman had 18.1% and no one else got above 12%.

All seven of the Democratic candidates expressed support for ranked-choice voting, according to the “Yes on 2” campaign. Mermell quipped in her concession video Friday, “If the ranked-choice voting campaign needs a new face, give me a call.”

Also known as “instant-runoff” voting, the ranked-choice system allows voters to rank-order as many candidates as they like. If more than two candidates are running and no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the ballots that would have gone to them are shifted to each of the voters’ second choices. That process repeats until one candidate wins a majority.

Proponents of ranked-choice voting cite both the 4th District this year and the 3rd District race in 2018 — in which U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas’s decision to retire sparked a 10-way Democratic primary that ended with now-U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan edging Dan Koh 21.7% to 21.5% — as showing need for a system that elects leaders by majority support.

“While Jake Auchincloss won in Congressional District 4, he only obtained the support of 23% of the voters while four women who ran to his left won 61%,” said Henry Wortis, spokesman for Our Revolution Massachusetts, a progressive group that backed former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey in that race. “This is why the state needs ranked-choice voting to be truly democratic.”

Maine voters approved ranked-choice in 2016 for state and federal races, and the state is set to be the first to use the system in a presidential election.

Cambridge uses ranked-choice voting, and Amherst and Easthampton residents have both voted to implement the system. But Lowell voters rejected a nonbinding ballot question on the issue in 2019.

Paul Craney, of the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said the ranked-choice system “puts a very unfair burden on the voter to force them to try to guess who the last two candidates will be in the election.”

Craney instead favors the nonpartisan election system used by several municipalities, including Boston, which takes the highest vote-getters in a preliminary election regardless of party affiliation and sends them on to a general contest. He said that avoids potential confusion from voters having to rank candidates.

“Candidates are not like ice cream flavors,” Craney said. “Their positions are at times a little complex and voters are very smart — they put a lot of thought into what candidates are like.”

The “Yes on 2” campaign is backed by a bipartisan coalition that includes former Govs. Bill Weld and Deval Patrick. A recent WBUR/MassINC survey showed that respondents who understood the system supported it by a 15-point margin.

But “people who don’t know about it are skeptical,” Falchuk said. “Our job is to just make sure we bring voters the good news about ranked-choice voting and how it helps.”

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