By Bob Katzen
Question 2 asks voters if they approve of a proposed law that would implement a voting system known as “ranked-choice voting” (RCV) in which voters rank one or more candidates in order of preference. If one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-place votes, that candidate would be declared the winner and no other rounds would be necessary.
If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate that received the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The second choice of the voters who supported the eliminated candidate now becomes their first choice and is added to the totals of the remaining candidates. The same process is repeated, if necessary, until a candidate is the first choice of a majority of voters.
Under current law, cities and towns can adopt RCV for local elections for offices including city councils and town select boards by charter commission or by home rule petition. Cambridge is currently the only city or town that uses RCV for its city elections. Both Amhrest and Easthampton recently approved RCV and will implement it for their local elections beginning in 2021. According to Question 2’s sponsors, there are local efforts to approve RCV being pursued in Arlington, Brookline and Northampton.
The system, if approved in November, would be used statewide in every city and town beginning in 2022 in primary and general elections for all Massachusetts statewide offices, seats in the Massachusetts State Senate and House, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and most county offices except county commissioner. The system would also not be used in any U.S. presidential race.
The initial vote count to see if any candidate reaches 50 percent on the first round would be conducted by individual cities and towns. Any contest which goes to a second round or beyond will be calculated at a central tabulation facility where voters’ rankings would be entered into a computer, which would then calculate the results of each round of the counting process.
The measure would give candidates at least three days to request a recount and require the secretary of state to conduct a voter education campaign about the ranked-choice voting process.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s Office of Administration and Finance is required by law to analyze the fiscal consequences if the proposed law is approved. “This measure will likely require implementation costs for state and municipal elections officials, but because the proposed law would only apply to elections and primaries that are held on or after January 1, 2022, the fiscal consequences of this proposed measure for state and municipal government finances are otherwise unknown,” said the analysis.
“Voters are tired of feeling like they have to hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils,” Evan Falchuk, Board Chair of Yes on 2 told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “We should have more than two choices when it comes to elections. We should be able to vote for who we truly like, instead of worrying that the candidate we like might be a ‘spoiler.’ The people we elect should have to build consensus—not division—in order to win. And they must be accountable to the broadest spectrum of voters, not just their ‘base.’”
“At a time when anxiety of the integrity of our election system is at an all-time high, let’s not add complicated layers of bureaucracy that increases opportunities for corruption and let’s not discourage voter participation with confusing ballots and layers of complication that leaves to unforeseen and hard-to-explain results,” Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “Ranked choice voting does have some limited advantages but overall, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages and we should not mess with our current system at this time.”
“Voting Yes on 2 is about building a stronger democracy that puts power in the hands of the people,” said Rep. Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill). “This question can be boiled down to a very simple principle—that candidates that win elections should win with more than 50 percent of voters supporting them. In the absence of RCV, we sideline majority rule and enable minority and special interest rule. A simple change to the way we vote can bring so many benefits to Massachusetts voters. RCV would increase diversity in government, decrease polarization in campaigns and help restore faith in our democracy in a time when we need it most.”
“In 2019, RCV was voted down in the city of Lowell,” said Kamara Kay, Chairman, Lowell Republican City Committee. “The RCV option is for the winner to become a loser and a loser to become the winner.”
“I cannot understate the value that ranked choice voting would bestow upon voters,” said Michael Porter, Director of Harvard’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness. “We are so fortunate to have the chance in Massachusetts to be among the pioneers in adopting a simple, and straightforward way to make sure our elected leaders have the support of the broadest majority when they take office and begin to govern. Our current system does not elect leaders that fully reflect the will of the voting public, and too often it shuts out outside candidates from the process, assigning them the role of spoiler instead of contender. We can do so much better by voting yes on 2.”
“RCV is on the ballot this year because the effort is being funded by out-of-state billionaires and their special interests,” said Craney. “Some of the biggest funders include a former executive from the Enron Corporation, family members of Rupert Murdoch of Fox News, and the family members of the George Soros family. The irony should not be lost, that they want to influence our state’s democratic process that has worked for centuries.”
Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question. A maximum of 150 words is allowed.
IN FAVOR OF QUESTION #2: Written by Shauna Hamilton, Voter Choice for Massachusetts. 617-906-8166 http://www.voterchoice2020.org
“A yes vote adopts ranked choice voting, a common-sense reform that puts more power in the hands of voters. Ranked choice voting addresses three problems: 1. Big money and corrupt special interests have too much control over our democracy 2. Politicians can win with less than a majority, and independents are shut out. 3. Politics are tearing us apart, preventing solutions to major challenges. It works by giving voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference. You can vote for just one candidate like you always have, or you can rank your first, second and third choice. If your favorite candidate doesn’t win, your vote is instantly counted for your second choice so candidates must compete for every vote. Ranked choice voting ensures the winner has majority support and reflects the true will of the people. A ‘yes’ vote gives voters more voice and will help make our democracy stronger.”
AGAINST QUESTION #2: Written by Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. 617-553-4115 https://www.massfiscal.org
“Two Democratic governors rejected ranked choice voting because it was confusing and denied voters informed choice. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown witnessed a mayoral election in Oakland where the winner won with voters’ seventh and eighth place rankings. Gov. Brown said, ‘Ranked-choice voting is overly complicated and confusing. I believe it deprives voters of genuinely informed choice.’ Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said Ranked Choice Voting ‘has often led to voter confusion and the promise that ranked choice voting leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled.’ Ranked Choice Voting ballots force voters to guess the candidates who will remain standing in multiple voting rounds and cast their votes in the dark. If they guess wrong and vote for eliminated candidates, their ballots are not counted in the final vote. Winners win a false ‘majority’ of remaining ballots, not a true majority of all the voters voting in the election.”