There’s a question on the ballot in Massachusetts this year that would adopt ranked-choice voting in the state if it’s approved. This rather undemocratic idea has been gaining traction in a number of places, particularly in the northeast over the past decade. (Maine adopted the system in 2015 and is still using it.) The rules for using this method can look a bit complicated at first glance, but the underlying principle is pretty simple. Instead of just voting for one candidate for any given office, voters select a first choice, a second choice, and so on for as many candidates as they wish to list. The lower-ranked options only come into play if no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes on the first round. (Boston Globe)
After centuries of residents picking one candidate per office, a question on November’s ballot proposes they instead rank their preferred choices in both primary and general elections for an array of elected seats. Should it pass, Massachusetts would have the second statewide — and most extensive — ranked-choice voting system in the country.
Implementing the new system would mean the person who receives the most first-place votes in a race with several candidates could, in fact, lose. If there is no candidate with a majority of votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated and his or her voters’ second and subsequent choices are re-distributed.
Such a process, its supporters say, allows those with the broadest level of support to win, not just those who eke out a plurality. It also would fundamentally alter the state’s elections process when ballot access and representation are already under intense scrutiny.
The primary and most obvious objection to this system is based on the demonstrable fact that a person who receives the most votes in the first round of the election can go on to lose. It’s demonstrable because it’s already happened. In Maine, during the 2016 elections, GOP Congressman Bruce Poliquin lost his seat to Democrat Jared Golden after earning the most votes in the first round. Golden was apparently the second choice among voters who selected one of the two independent candidates running against them. Poliquin won the initial round of voting 49% to 42% over Golden, but when the two independent candidates were stripped away, Golden picked up enough additional votes to finish with 50.2%.