Progressives should think twice before supporting ranked-choice voting 

System would drive election results toward the political middle  

RANKED-CHOICE VOTING is an innovative election system with the potential to eliminate vote-splitting, and is supported by nascent evidence that it could promote a more diverse slate of candidates. Massachusetts voters will decide on whether to adopt the voting system via ballot Question 2 this fall. 

However, progressives should consider that they may be put at a severe disadvantage under such a system. If anything, Massachusetts has a consensus moderate majority, and ranked-choice voting seeks to direct elections results towards that majority whenever possible. Out-of-state billionaires appear to agree that ranked-choice voting can lead to more centrist and sympathetic politicians, as they have donated vast sums of money in support of the Yes on 2 campaign. 

September’s Democratic primary in the Fourth Congressional District has been highlighted as a prime example of the case for ranked-choice voting. The winner, Jake Auchincloss, received only 22 percent of the vote, and the one-time registered Republican was seen as the moderate in a large field. Multiple left-leaning candidates split the more progressive vote, and liberal activists expressed dismay at the outcome of the primary. 

It is tempting to suggest that ranked-choice voting could have tilted the primary in favor of a more progressive candidate. But there is no guarantee that a voter whose first pick is a progressive will pick another progressive in their next ranking of choices. This is a state where moderate Republican governors are the norm and where thousands of voters opted to pick Elizabeth Warren and Charlie Baker on the same ballot two years ago. It is just as easy, if not likely, for that progressive voter to pick a more moderate second choice, and upon reapportionment, help form a moderate majority. 

The system works well if you desire a regression to the mean. But for Massachusetts progressives fighting the status quo, a voting regime that drags election results to the center should be viewed with skepticism – especially when moneyed interests are so supportive. 

The Yes on 2 campaign has raised $9.8 million. But this is hardly the result of a grassroots outpouring of support. The campaign is almost exclusively funded by the wealthy and their foundations. In fact, 85 percent of the campaign’s funds have been donated by only 25 people. Each gave more than $200,000, and only three live in Massachusetts. Their opponents have only raised little more than $3,000. 

Why would Kathryn Murdoch, of the Fox News-owning family, need to personally spend $2.5 million to influence the Massachusetts voting system? 

We can find hints in an August Fortune magazine op-ed she co-authored encouraging political giving by the country’s philanthropic class. Murdoch laments that, “In the last midterm election, every member of Congress who was defeated in a primary lost to a candidate who was more ideologically extreme.” And she urges her wealthy peers to “invest resources […] so that politicians are accountable to voters beyond their party’s base.” Murdoch argues that our politics are captured by partisans and should be fixed by forcing broader consensus through reforms like ranked-choice voting. 

I agree with Murdoch when she writes, “Our democracy is experiencing total system failure, unable to prevent or address large-scale problems.” Yet in her proposed reforms she fails to acknowledge sweeping proposals like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and higher taxes on the wealthy – progressive reforms that are structural, systemic, and actually exist today to address the large-scale problems our country faces. 

Instead, she clings to an imaginary ideal of bipartisan “problem-solving” that ranked-choice voting would bring. She erases the impact of progressive champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, among others elected in the last midterm election, as mere “ideological extremists.” Murdoch disregards progressives because they threaten her bottom line, and she urges her wealthy peers to fund a voting experiment that has the potential to reward sympathetic, centrist candidates. 

Meet the Author
Yes on 2’s donors have made it quite clear that they do not care about supporting a particular party. They want to push policymaking towards a centrist consensus. The campaign will tell you that ranked-choice voting does not benefit any one party or another, but that is not my concern. I fear that the progressive movement will be disadvantaged. These are not mutually exclusive outcomes. 

Many progressive advocates strongly believe in the benefits of ranked-choice voting and have been vocal in their support. But I believe that progressives cannot simply ignore the campaign’s ultra-wealthy donors who have clearly stated their goals to moderate our elected leaders. I hope that other progressives join me in making their concerns public. There is still time to demand answers from the Yes on 2 campaign. 

Kevin Connor is the communications director for Democratic state Sen. Harriette L. Chandler. The views expressed here are his own.