Progressives aren’t the problem, voting approach is

Ranked-choice voting is the way to go

GREG MAYNARD’S insights regarding the shrinking influence of the Massachusetts Democratic Party was a much needed effort to critique the party’s shortcomings. However, instead of analysis, Maynard mixes up the issues in order to take gratuitous potshots at the party’s progressive wing.

It’s scarcely news that unenrolled voters now outnumber both registered Republicans and Democrats added together, or that the state party’s fundraising has been diminishing for years. And there’s no denying that media and funding from wealthy and corporate donors shape electoral outcomes, perhaps more than either party.

Maynard’s conclusion that there is little general support for progressive policies is belied by last fall’s ballot victories for the Fair Share Amendment, the Driver’s Mobility Act, and strong majority support for non-binding ballot resolutions for Medicare for All and legislative transparency in all 20 state rep. districts, including in the conservative southeast corner of the state, where they were held.

The fact that candidates who were endorsed at the state Democratic Party convention lost their primaries is probably due more to the lack of name recognition of primarily Boston-based contenders than to Democrats being out in front of a more conservative electorate.

I do agree with Maynard that our current electoral operating system needs an upgrade, but not the solutions he offers. In our current plurality voting system, non-partisan primaries only increase the chances of multiple candidates running, and, augmenting the risks of spoiling and splitting support for any cause or issue among numerous contenders, leading to a victory where the winner has far less than the majority of the vote. The din of negative campaigning would drown out the voices trying to explain policies; cynicism and alienation would further drive down participation in the voting process.

Ranked-choice voting, in which no candidate wins without over 50 percent electoral support, is the obvious solution to our current situation. Voters can vote for their preferred candidate without worrying that they’ve wasted a vote on a losing candidate as they can also rank their second, third, and subsequent choices on the ballot.

Eliminating the candidate with the least support and redistributing the votes to the second-choice candidates and continuing this process of elimination and redistribution until one of the candidates has more than 50 percent ensures that a winner has a mandate and not just the passionate adherence of a small sliver of the voting population. Candidates seeking second and third choice votes have an incentive to find common ground with their rivals rather than attacking them and alienating their supporters, leading to more positive and issue-based campaigns.

While ranked-choice voting failed in a statewide referendum in 2020 as the COVID pandemic limited canvassing and outreach, towns across Massachusetts, including Arlington, Concord, East Hampden and Amherst have recently voted to adopt this improvement to our democracy. As our traditional political parties falter, squabble, and fail to lead, I agree with Mr. Maynard that we need alternatives; I’m just disappointed he left out ranked-choice voting.

Martha Karchere is a resident of Jamaica Plain.