Despite lack of robust opposition, ranked choice advocates have ballot question battle on their hands.
This November, Bay Staters will decide whether or not to implement ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts. Gamblers beware; a recent WBUR poll found people split on runoff elections, with 36% of voters for and against Question 2.
All of which is pretty darn remarkable considering that there is very little organized opposition. At the time of this writing, the No Ranked Choice Voting Committee 2020 has reported less than $3,000 in donations. Until recently, their only funding came from the Westford Republican Town Committee, a political organization that openly opposes Question 2. The secretary of the group, Patricia Chessa, is also the treasurer of the aforementioned committee. In contrast, the Ranked Choice Voting 2020 Committee has so far raised north of $1.6 million.
Both groups take pride in their humble origins. Greg Dennis, the policy director for Yes on 2, said, “We started out [and] we had no money, no staff, we crammed into a small office. … We collected over 120,000 signatures.” Anthony Amore, a spokesperson for No on 2, said, “It’s a true grassroots initiative.” He added that the group has not actively sought donations, and is instead delivering “the argument to the people” through media outreach.
Among the few public opponents, Boston Globe conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby argues that ranked-choice voting is awful because of “how confusing it will be for many voters.” “In elections,” he carries on, “second, third, [and] fourth choices shouldn’t have any kind of validity.”
The Yes on 2 crowd disagrees. Alex Mendez is an independent candidate running for a state senate seat, and sees ranked-choice voting as a potential game changer, saying the system “allows for the complexity of candidates and just for getting more people out there.”
A “spoiler effect” was mentioned by many supporters, in that without RCV, some voters may feel that they can’t vote for their ideal candidate because of “electability.” “People shouldn’t have to be political strategists [and] leverage how to help a candidate win if they don’t believe in that candidate,” Mendez said. “Independent and nontraditional candidates will often feel reluctant to enter a race because they don’t want to play the spoiler vote,” said Dennis, the Yes on 2 policy director.
Massachusetts already offers ranked-choice voting in some municipalities, including Cambridge. Marc Levy, the editor of Cambridge Day, described the system as a “very sane, very reasonable way to run elections.” “I think there are a lot of people in Cambridge who appreciate having it,” he said. “I have never heard of anyone saying, Let’s get rid of it.”
Amore cited a different kind of spoiler effect, specifically mentioning an ACLU of Kansas report stating: “RCV exacerbates economic and racial disparities in voting. Voting errors and spoiled ballots occur far more often. In Minneapolis, for example, nearly 10% of ranked choice ballots were not counted, most of these in low-income communities of color. Other municipalities have seen similar effects… Despite the fact that we support the goals of ranked choice voting, there are more effective ways to encourage citizen participation and strengthen our elections. Therefore, we are neutral on ranked choice voting.”
For that and other reasons, Amore argues that ranked-choice voting gets in the way of fair elections. It’s an argument that you will hear from him and few others, whereas the Yes on 2 campaign is making plenty of noise.
“All people who like fair elections and active democracy should support this,” Mendez said. “[For] new, fresh ideas …[and to] let democracy evolve into something better.”