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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Massachusetts Question 2: Ranked-choice voting

A Somerville ballot drop box is pictured on Powder House Blvd. on Sept. 28.

In 2018, Bruce Poliquin, a former Republican congressman from Maine, became the first incumbent in 100 years to lose Maine’s 2nd District. His loss came after Mainers voted to implement a system of ranked-choice voting. Two years later, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is asking voters if they would like to see a similar system implemented here. 

The second referendum question Massachusetts voters will see on theirNovember 2020 ballots is whether they support using ranked-choice voting for state elections. Maine became the first state in the United States to implement ranked-choice voting after a similar referendum in 2016.

Whereas in a typical electionvoters choose one candidate for each race, and the candidate with the most votes wins, ranked-choice voting allows voters to order all the candidates based on their preference. The winning candidate has to receive at least 50% of the vote. If no candidate receives 50% of first-place votes in the initial round of ballot counting, the candidate in last place is eliminated. The second-place choices on those ballots are reallocated as first place choices. The process continues until one candidate reaches the 50% mark. 

In Maine’s 2018 election, Poliquin received a majority of the first place votes but not quite a 50% majority. The ranked-choice method was triggered, reallocating votes and ultimately declaring Democratic challenger Jared Golden the winner. 

Later that year, Poliquin filed a lawsuit against the Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, claiming that ranked-choice voting was unconstitutional, but Poliquin ultimately dropped charges.

Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Professor of Civic Life at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life Eitan Hersh is well informed about ranked-choice voting and offered an explanation of why Massachusetts officials are considering implementing this initiative.

“Some people don’t like the fact that we have, right now, plurality winners. So, in a number of congressional districts in Massachusetts recently, we had primaries where nine people or 10 people are running, and then the person who wins gets 23% of the vote, and there’s some people who don’t like that the winners get so small a share of the vote,” Hersh said.

Matt Tolbert, a senior from Nashville, Tenn.and a member of JumboVote, cited a similar point as to why ranked-choice voting, in general, could be beneficial. 

“On the whole — and I speak on the whole since I’m not very invested in Massachusetts politics — [I think] that ranked-choice voting is a good thing. It gives voters more options, more visibility and it allows people to better reflect their views and preferences in the ballot box. And it’s not just this absolutist choice between one of two major parties,” Tolbert said.

Unlike Tolbert, Hersh said he was not in favor of implementing ranked-choice voting, claiming the negatives outweigh the positives. One disadvantage of ranked-choice voting, according to Hersh, is that it makes voting more difficult.

“It is confusing. It makes voting harder. It takes more time,” Hersh said. “So what is that going to do? First of all, it might create longer lines. Particularly right now inMassachusetts, the only places where we have long lines on Election Day — this is obviously pre-COVID-19 — are really in areas where a lot of minorities are living, in cities like Boston and Springfield. So you can imagine, with in-person voting, it takes a lot longer for people to fill out their ballots, and the lines will get longer, and people in these communities will suffer more.”

Loss aversion, as displayed in the Maine election, was another concern of Hersh’s.

“In psychology there’s this principle called loss aversion. It stinks if you don’t win something, but it hurts a lot more when you feel like you won something and it was taken away from you,” Hersh said. “One big concern of ranked-choice voting is that it has that flavor where someone kind of wins and it’s taken away from them.”

Hersh also expressed concerns about voter turnout. 

“There’s a debate about whether [ranked-choice voting] has a very negative impact on turnout or no impact, but no evidence suggests that this actually increases participation,” Hersh said.

President of Tufts Democrats, Rhys Murphy, advocates for the implementation of ranked-choice voting and disagreed with Hersh about voter turnout.

“I, generally speaking, have faith in voters to carry out their democratic and civic duty,” Murphy said. “We already have large-scale efforts to turn out the vote. We can also supplement by having large-scale efforts to help people figure out how voting might work and might be different under this system … I see that more as a hurdle to get over as opposed to a barrier that we can’t get through.” 

Murphysays he’s in favor of ranked-choice voting because he identifies politically as a progressive and believes ranked-choice voting could give his coalition more of a say in elections.

“Ranked-choice gives more of a voice and more representation to people who are of my political alignment who are otherwise just sort of expected to be sort of quiet partners within the Democratic party,” Murphy said.

Murphy cited the recent primary election for the Massachusetts 4th District. Nine candidates contested the race, and Jake Auchincloss won with 23% of the vote.

“A good example of this would actually be theMassachusetts 4th District. Their Democratic primary came down to a very centrist candidate and then a whole field of candidates to the left of that candidate ... it’s obviously speculation, but I think it’d be fair to say that, in a ranked-choice system, that district and that election would have gone a lot differently,” Murphy said.

Referring to the same race, Hershonce again expressed his fundamental concerns with ranked-choice voting.

“People have different values, so some people really don’t like when the winner gets [23%] of the vote, and other people — and I’m in the second category — have a pretty hard rule that you don’t make voting harder for people,” Hersh said.

At this point, the issue is in the hands of Massachusetts voters. Hersh explained the next step in the process of possibly implementing ranked-choice voting.

“Voters in Novemberon the presidential ballot are going to be able to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about whether or not they want to adopt this. And if they vote yes, then it’s essentially going to be implemented, but there will be a ton of lawsuits. There’s a question about whether it’s a violation of the state constitution,” Hersh said.