Pushing ranked choice with beer (and pie)

A recipe to revive democracy in Massachusetts elections

AMERICANS ARE ALL too familiar with the divisive saga of the 2016 presidential contest, but few are aware of the quiet revolution that blossomed in Maine and is now taking flight in Massachusetts. On November 8 last year, Maine voters enacted Question 5, making Maine the first state in US history to upgrade its voting system to ranked-choice voting. The new system will be used in Maine beginning in 2018 for all federal and state elections, including party primaries. The system has been in use for years in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, and Minneapolis.

Massachusetts should be next. Our state is among the most innovative in the nation, but our voting system hasn’t seen an upgrade in decades. We founded Voter Choice Massachusetts to change this. Over the past eight months, we’ve been crisscrossing the state to educate the public on the benefits of ranked-choice voting and how it can improve our lives. We’re signing up supporters at community festivals, political conventions, protests, and even the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston. We’re speaking to advocacy organizations, unions, businesses, and election officials. And we’re training public speakers, publishing research reports, and adding content to our website and social media pages.

Our hard work has paid off. What started as an informal list of 200 supporters of ranked-choice voting one year ago has grown to 7,000 members and 1,500 volunteers organized into seven regional chapters around the state. We’ve raised more than $40,000 from over 250 individual donors. Bills to advance ranked-choice voting have garnered more than 30 co-sponsors in the State House. In June, the Massachusetts Democratic Party voted to add ranked-choice voting to the party platform and the approach has been endorsed by many prominent Massachusetts organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, Boston NAACP, Our Revolution, Common Cause, and MassVOTE.

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Our biggest challenge ahead is education, so we’ve found a fun way to introduce people to ranked-choice voting: beer elections. Friends and neighbors gather in a local bar or brewery to sample a few beers on tap, listen to our presentation, and rank their preferences on their ranked-choice voting beer ballot. We then tally the results. It’s fun and it’s educational. Last September we even hosted a “pie election” event, where the salted chocolate pie narrowly beat out blackberry ginger in the final round. These events have attracted a broad audience, and we’re looking forward to a proliferation of similar elections in the coming months.

In the aftermath of a divisive and chaotic presidential election, voters across the political spectrum are coming together to fight for a better way forward. Ranked-choice voting paves the way for a democracy that works, one in which every vote counts. It will enliven our elections with more voices and choices and spur more positive, issue-focused campaigns, all while ensuring the winning candidate earns a majority of support. We invite those who share our vision of better voting to sign up, volunteer, and donate at voterchoicema.org.

Adam Friedman is executive director and Greg Dennis is policy director of Voter Choice Massachusetts.