Ranked Choice Voting in Massachusetts

I’m sure all of us have been in a situation, whether with a group of friends, in a group project, or somewhere else entirely, in which most people don’t want to do something, but everybody ends up doing it anyway. Maybe two friends want to go to the park, but you and three other friends want to do something else. However, the four of you cannot agree on what to do, so despite the fact that the majority of the friend group does not want to go to the park, you still have to because two people could agree on it. This probably seems like a weird story to begin an article about voting. Here’s an example that will make a little more sense.

In 2013, Jasiel Correia was elected mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts. Five years later, in the fall of 2018, he was accused of wire and tax fraud. He was charged with stealing over $200,000 from investors in his startup. In March of 2019, voters had the opportunity to decide if they wanted to recall him, and if so, who they wanted to take his place. Nearly 8,000 people voted to recall Correia, while only 4,911 voted to keep him as mayor. There were five candidates for mayor on the ballot – including Correia, who won. How can that be right, if most people wanted him out of office? Correia got 35 percent of the vote, while the other 65 percent was split between the other four candidates. So, while most citizens of Fall River wanted Correia gone, he was reelected because he got more votes than anyone else.

This is certainly not the first times incidents like this have occurred, but what can be done to stop them? The answer is ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting is a policy that allows voters to rank candidates on a ballot instead of just voting for one person. This would mean that if no candidates won with a majority of the vote (over 50 percent), votes would be redistributed until someone did have the majority. To make it simple, let’s say a group of people are voting on pizza toppings. The choices are plain cheese, pepperoni, green pepper, and mushrooms. In a group of 20 people, everyone gets to vote for their first, second, third, and fourth choice of pizza topping. Plain cheese gets 25 percent of the vote, pepperoni gets 30 percent, green pepper gets 20 percent, and mushroom gets 25 percent. Since green pepper got the least number of votes, it is eliminated as a choice. The ballots with green pepper as the first choice would be reexamined, and those votes would be redistributed to the second choice, leaving plain cheese with 40 percent of the vote, pepperoni with 35 percent, and mushroom with 25 percent. The process of elimination and redistribution would continue until one topping (or candidate) had the majority. This system gets rid of the threat of “spoiler candidates,” or candidates who “take votes away from” candidates with a greater chance of winning.

There is currently an organization called Voter Choice Massachusetts working to get ranked choice voting passed in Massachusetts. Amherst and Cambridge have already implemented this system for their local elections. To learn more about ranked choice voting, or to get involved with Voter Choice Massachusetts, visit their website: https://www.voterchoicema.org/. The website has information about the history of ranked choice voting, where ranked choice voting is used across the country, and a variety of actions that you can take to help with their mission.

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