‘Alternative facts’ didn’t scuttle ranked-choice voting

Voters rejected ballot question because they didn’t buy it

THERE IS NOTHING worse than a sore loser. That is our gut reaction after reading Evan Falchuk’s recent item in CommonWealth entitled “Ranked-choice opponents peddled ‘alternative facts’”. With a treasure trove of out-of-state cash, Falchuk blames the loss of Question 2 on the “falsehoods” spread by the No on 2 campaign, a group armed with spare change by comparison.

No on 2 spent less than $10,000 to the Yes On 2 campaign’s more than $10 million. As noted by WBUR, the No on 2 campaign spent less than a penny per vote while Falchuk and company spent $7.41 per vote. In short, the No on 2 campaign had virtually no capacity in which to peddle in “alternative facts” even if it wanted. This disparity highlights a fatal flaw of ballot initiative systems across the country.

Rarely are these systems used genuinely by citizens to impose their will on the Legislature when it fails to act on a policy of particular importance to the people. More often than not, these campaigns are AstroTurf organizations that rely heavily on outside money to push the policy agendas of outside interests. It’s all meant to produce the appearance of a groundswell of support for a particular policy among the broad electorate. This is true in Maine, Massachusetts, and virtually every state with an initiative and referendum process. It was certainly true for the Yes on 2 campaign in Massachusetts this year.

The reason Massachusetts voters declined Question 2 is because they weren’t buying what the Yes on 2 campaign was selling; they saw through the façade. Similar to what occurred in Maine, the pro-ranked choice voting campaign in Massachusetts spent millions in out-of-state cash to push a number of vague, unscientific claims about the benefits of ranked-choice voting that can easily be disproven.

Chief among them is the claim that ranked-choice voting produces majority winners. In the world of fact checking, this claim is “mostly false.”

Maine Policy Institute’s 2019 analysis of 96 ranked-choice races held throughout the country found that, in 61 percent of these elections, the eventual winner won with less than a true majority of votes cast on Election Day. That’s because the system more often than not must “exhaust” or eliminate votes to achieve its pretend majority.

Throwing away votes that contain valid ballot markings isn’t a very democratic election system, if you ask me. Other claims of increased voter turnout and less negative campaigning are just as easily disproven.

This is not “fake news” or “alternative facts,” as Falchuk suggests. In fact, the data in the report was reviewed by Professor Nolan McCarty of Princeton University for a related ranked-choice voting lawsuit in Maine. Professor McCarty’s review of the data “found no discrepancies.

Falchuk claims there was a “failure of debate moderators to prepare themselves to recognize disinformation” and that the media’s need to “present ‘both sides’ of an issue also leaves press vulnerable to disinformation.”

Falchuk is essentially trying to tell the media how to do its job. He’s calling on nonpartisan news outlets to censor views with which he disagrees so he isn’t embarrassed when his $10 million ballot initiative campaign fails. That simply is not a winning strategy.

We implore Falchuk to conduct a more thoughtful postmortem on why his idea lost the day on November 3. It wasn’t because of “disinformation” or a concerted effort among Massachusetts news outlets to help the No on 2 campaign “peddle in alternative facts.”

Meet the Author

Paul D. Craney

Board Member & Spokesman, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance
Meet the Author

Jacob Posik

Director of communications, Maine Policy Institute
Question 2 lost because ranked-choice voting isn’t that popular of an idea among the general public. So much so that it was repealed in Worcester and voters rejected it in a local ballot question in Lowell. Sure, AstroTurf groups like Falchuk’s have no trouble selling the system to hyper-partisan political activists, but when it comes to the broader electorate, wholesale electoral changes like ranked-choice voting are a much tougher sell.

In the end, ranked-choice voting was important to Falchuk because he believed it would make him, a third-party candidate, more relevant in Massachusetts politics. It was always all about him, not the people of Massachusetts.

Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which authored the No side for Question 2 in the Massachusetts voter guide. Jacob Posik is the director of communications at the Maine Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank based in Portland, ME.