It’s time to bring ranked-choice voting to Mass.

Election reform would make good on principle of 'majority rule'

DURING THE SUMMER of 2002, Sen. John McCain delivered a recorded phone message to the citizens of Alaska, asking them to adopt “instant runoff voting that will lead to good government because Alaska will elect leaders who have the support of a majority of voters.” The senator was one of the earliest supporters of ranked-choice voting (RCV). It’s 17 years later and we now have plenty of case studies and growing support for this democractic reform. That’s why we filed H719, An Act relative to ranked choice voting, which earned 65 cosponsors in the Legislature. H719 would bring RCV to elections for all state offices, for both primary and general elections.

Far too often, we see candidates elected at all levels of government with less than 50 percent of the vote. Under our current first past the post system, a candidate only needs more votes than the rest of their opponents to win an election. Thus, a candidate can be elected to office without the support of the majority of their constituents. Most voters have encountered this at least once in their civic life — a race where a wide field of candidates split the vote and one wins with 25 percent of the vote, for example.

The principle is that our elected officials should have the support of at least a majority of the voters (50 percent +1) upon election—you could argue that in the absence of majority rule, you have minority rule or “spoiler” rule.

Under RCV, voters have the option to rank their candidates in order of preference. RCV ballots are counted in a series of rounds. First, all the first choices are counted, and if any candidate has a majority (more than 50 percent) of the votes, that candidate wins and the election is over. Otherwise, the last place candidate (the candidate with the fewest number of votes) is eliminated, and any votes cast for that candidate are transferred to the voter’s next preference (if the voter chose to rank more candidates). After each round of counting, we check again to see if any candidate has won a majority. Otherwise another candidate is eliminated and there is another round of counting, until one candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold.

Ranked choice voting presents numerous advantages compared to our current electoral system. It’s proven to make way for new candidates, incentivize more civil campaigns, and ensure that candidates appeal to a broad set of voters instead of special interests or just their “base.” In 2017, cities across the country that used RCV for their elections saw historically high turnout.

The most common pushback you’ll hear from RCV skeptics is that it’s confusing and voters won’t get it. Research proves otherwise. Studies show that voters have had very little difficulty in adopting RCV. A 2009 study in Minneapolis found that 95 percent of voters there thought that RCV was easy to understand. You might also hear that RCV could hurt communities of color, but it’s exactly the opposite. In that same study 97 percent of voters of color found RCV easy to understand.

Ranked-choice voting has a vast scope of support in Massachusetts. Last June, Secretary of State Bill Galvin publicly endorsed ranked choice voting along with other prominent officials. RCV has the support of a diverse coalition stretching from progressive to libertarian groups in Massachusetts. From Barack Obama to Bill Weld, ranked-choice voting has broad support across the political spectrum because it’s a healthy reform to preserve and strengthen our democracy.

Meet the Author

Andy Vargas

State Representative, Massachusetts Legislature
It’s time to modernize our democracy and adopt a ranked-choice voting system.

Andy Vargas is a Democratic state representative from Haverhill.