Clash of the opinions: Question 2 – “Ranked choice voting”

The “Yes” position
By McKenzie Ward
Editorial Staff

A “yes” vote on Question 2 (2020) would implement ranked choice voting for primary and general elections for state executive officials, state legislators, federal congressional and senate seats, and certain county offices beginning in 2022.

Ranked choice voting would allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference rather than selecting one candidate per race. If a candidate receives greater than 50% of all first-preference votes, the candidate is declared the winner.

If no candidate receives greater than 50% of all first-preference votes, then the candidate receiving the fewest first preference votes is eliminated, which would then trigger a recount. Those votes would then go to the voters’ second choice and the process would continue until a candidate has a majority of the votes.

Those in favor of this initiative argue that ranked choice voting ensures majority support of a candidate and provides more candidates for voters to choose from which removes the fear of split-voting, and restrains negative campaigning.

Republican Bill Weld and Democrat Deval Patrick, both former Massachusetts governors, argue ranked choice voting would strengthen how our democracy works and ensure that the winning candidate is elected with the broadest majority possible, according to their op-ed for WBUR.

The current voting system makes it possible for candidates to win even without majority support from voters. For example, a candidate could win with a simple plurality of 35% despite 65% of voters not voting for them when there are multiple candidates. 

Maine was the first state to pass ranked choice voting after electing a governor twice who did not receive a majority of the votes. This will be Maine’s first election using the new form of voting.

According to WBUR, 40% of Massachusetts elections that have three or four candidates do not result in a winner who receives a majority of the votes. 

Just this year, in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District Primary, 56% of voters did not support the two top candidates. Ranked choice voting would ensure that the elected candidate would have a majority of the votes.

This new process of voting would reflect the choice of the majority of voters as it would require a candidate to have a majority of votes in order to win.

Under the current system, there is the fear of vote-splitting, which occurs when citizens vote for a candidate who is an independent or a third-party candidate due their dislike of the candidates from the major parties. Ranked choice voting would remove this fear of voting and encourage a broader field of qualified candidates to run from all parties.

This would mean that voters would no longer have to pick the “lesser of two evils” and their vote would represent who they want in office. Ranked choice voting will finally give a chance to underdog candidates who are often overlooked due to the fear that a vote for a third-party or independent candidate doesn’t count.

Supporters of ranked choice voting also argue that it would restrict negative campaigning as candidates would need to be not only campaigning for first-preference votes, but also hunting for second-choice and third-choice votes. This would mean that candidates would not be able to only target specific demographics, and would instead have to broaden their appeal to the electorate.

Ranked choice voting could mean an end to the hyperpartisanship that has split our country politically for years.

Advocates for ranked choice voting would also argue that candidates would be less willingly to participate in negative campaigning and attacking rivals as it might turn off voters who might support them as their second-choice or third-choice candidate.

Those against ranked choice voting argue that it is too confusing, which is why lawmakers will need to ensure that voters are provided with resources to educate themselves about the process.

Ranked choice voting is not perfect. But by ensuring a win from a candidate with a majority of support while also removing the fear of split voting, Massachusetts voters will be better represented in elections. 

The “No” position
By Donald Halsing
Associate Editor

A “no” vote on Question 2 (2020) would not implement ranked choice voting, and the current plurality voting system would remain in place for state and federal offices, excluding presidential elections. 

Those against this initiative claim there is no problem with the current system, in which the candidate who receives the most votes is the winner of the election. 

The strongest argument against ranked choice voting is the system is too confusing. 

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito intend to vote “no” on the ballot measure because they believe it will add a layer of complication, delay results, and increase election costs. The ballot measure may reduce voter turnout because potential voters may choose not to cast their votes because they do not understand how the system works or who they are really voting for.

What is ranked choice voting? In this system, if a candidate does not receive more than 50% of the popular vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. That person’s votes are then counted by their second choice instead, and the votes are tallied again. The cycle repeats: eliminating the final candidate and choosing the next-ranked candidate from losing ballots, until one candidate gains 50% or more of the vote.

Ranked choice voting artificially increases the number of votes candidates may have. Second and subsequent rounds of vote tallying add votes to more popular candidates, and likely will skew the vote in a direction which does not accurately represent the views of citizens. 

If voters are forced to rank all the candidates by order of preference, they are asked to vote for candidates they do not want to vote for. If a voter’s ballot is counted by their fourth or fifth choice, it is unlikely that ballot will continue to represent the will of that voter, and perhaps will cross a line into supporting a candidate whose views are in opposition to the voter’s.

This method of voting is unnecessary. Many candidates for state legislative seats, and even some federal seats, run uncontested. Even so, many elections have a clear majority winner. Counting the fraction of second-choice votes from candidates who lost is unlikely to make a huge difference in most races.

Those in favor of ranked choice voting falsely claim the system increases democracy and representation. The only thing ranked-choice voting increases is uncertainty. With a plurality voting system, each voter can claim with absolute certainty for whom their vote counts. With ranked choice voting, each voter cannot say whom their vote counted for after exiting the polling station. 

The proposed system does not match the way people choose candidates. With political issues, people can pick a point along a spectrum of support or opposition. With candidates in an election, however, there is not a spectrum: voters must choose one over others. Ranked choice voting will not encourage voters to make a definitive choice, and as a result, voters will not choose candidates based on which one represents their ideas the best.

Ranked choice voting is confusing and unnecessary, and prevents democracy from happening as it should. A “no” vote on Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 (2020) will prevent numerous problems in future elections.