The second initiative petition on the Massachusetts ballot has to do with ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting can come in different shapes and sizes, and it isn’t the easiest thing to understand. In general, instead of voting for just one person, one can vote for three or more candidates, depending on how many are running.
- One possibility for ranked choice voting is that if none of the candidates receive at least 50% of the votes, all but the two leading candidates are eliminated and the votes received by the eliminated candidates are distributed among the two remaining candidates according to voters preferences. This ensures that one candidate achieves a majority and is declared elected.
- Another possibility for ranked choice voting is that if none of the candidates receive at least 50% of the votes, the bottom candidate is dropped, and there is a virtual run-off with the remaining candidates. If none of the candidates then receive 50%, the process is repeated.
The way it would work in Massachusetts, if this initiative were to pass, is the latter of these two options.
To demonstrate with a very concrete example: the 4th Congressional District in Massachusetts is the congressional district that I grew up in, but I know longer live there. Since 1972 it has been represented by three legendary progressive congressmen: Robert Drinan, Barney Frank, and Joe Kennedy III. In 2020 Joe Kennedy gave up this seat and decided to challenge Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic primary, a challenge which he lost. There was a bevy of candidates who wanted to replace him, and by the time we got to the primary there were nine candidates on the ballot (although two had technically withdrawn).
The primary candidates were by and large quite progressive, but there was one candidate, Jake Auchincloss, who was much more moderate. He is a former Marine, and former Republican, and also a former political organizer for GOP Governor Charlie Baker‘s 2014 campaign. Auchincloss just barely squeaked by against his more progressive challengers, an outcome that is very unlikely if we would have had ranked choice voting. See below:
|Chris Zannetos (Unofficially withdrew)||3.3||5,091|
|Dave Cavell (Unofficially withdrew)||1.6||2,472|
Now, if I were still living in the 4th Congressional and we had ranked choice voting, maybe I would have voted for Jesse Mermell, Becky Grossman and Alan Khazei.
- In the first round of voting, clearly no one would have come close to 50%.
- Ben Sigel, Dave Cavell, Chris Zannetos, Alan Khazei, Ihssane Lackey, and Natalia Linos would have been eliminated in successive rounds of virtual voting.
- With Jake Auchincloss, Jesse Mermell and Becky Grossman left standing, it’s still not clear that anyone would have reached the 50% threshold. Let’s say that Grossman is eliminated at this stage.
- The last round would then have been a contest between Auchincloss and Mermell, who likely would have won because more people would have included her as a secondary choice.
Given that the 4th Congressional is probably the most progressive district in the very progressive Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mermell would be much more in keeping with the overall political sentiment of the voters of the district than Auchincloss.
So, this is a very concrete example of how ranked choice voting can more fairly reflect the will of the voters.
I should also note that the proposal is being opposed by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance – whose directors I have done some work with – and the Fiscal Alliance is a conservative anti-tax group here in Massachusetts.
|For these reasons I recommend voting “Yes” on Question #2|
 The district has traditionally been centered in Brookline and Newton, but since the redistricting of 1980, it added several districts in Norfolk and Plymouth county.
 I’m not saying this is whom I would have voted for, this is just a hypothetical. I don’t know the candidates well enough, because I no longer live in the district.