On Election Day, Massachusetts voters will decide whether they want to adopt a ranked choice voting system in 2022. That election will feature races for governor, Congress and the state house. Evan Falchuk, chair of the Yes On 2 campaign, tells WAMC that the ability to rank politicians in the order of their preference would result in elections that more accurately represent the majority of voters and level the playing field for candidates.
FALCHUK: The reason we want to implement rank choice voting is that we, like so many other voters, feel like we've had to hold our nose too many times and vote for the lesser of two evils. And ranked choice voting opens up the system to new voices and new choices, and helps build consensus at a time of disunity. And just, you know, creates- It doesn't fix all of our problems, but it's one of the ways we can make our democracy better.
WAMC: Let's get into the mechanics here, Evan. How does it compare and contrast to our current system should this vote go through?
So in our current system, if there were four or five candidates running, which happens a lot, you get to pick one, and oftentimes, the winner ends up with less than 50% of the vote, or much less than 50% sometimes. In ranked choice voting, you get to rank your choices, first choice, second choice, third choice and so on. And when we count the votes, if no one has 50% on the first counting, whoever came in last is eliminated. And as a voter, if you voted for that last choice, the last place candidate, your second choice now counts. And we keep doing that until someone gets 50%. So in many ways, it's what they call an instant runoff, where we can make sure we truly understand what the majority of voters support by giving choices to people where they don't have to feel they pick one and then hope for the best.
So let's say a voter is looking at a ballot in a ranked choice voting Massachusetts. What would they be seeing?
So they would see a list of the candidates just like they would now. And then across the top, you'd see first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on, and there'd be bubbles for you to rank them. It just basically adds a couple more, few more columns onto your ballot. If you want it to vote for just one, you could. No one's requiring you to rank candidates. And what voters say in the many places around the country that are using ranked choice voting is that it's actually simple and easy. And voters like it.
Are there states in the US that currently have a rank choice voting system?
The state of Maine passed ranked choice voting in 2016 and ran a congressional race with ranked choice voting in 2018 that more than 90% of the voters in that district said that they liked. And it was interesting, you had a Democrat, you had a Republican and you have two independents, and voters were able to vote for who they really liked without anybody telling them that if they voted for, say, one of the independents, that they were wasting their vote, or that a candidate was a spoiler or the people should drop out. Everyone got to vote their hopes and not their fears. They got to pick the candidate they truly liked. And the result ended up being that the voice of the majority was heard.
Now, it's a relatively unvetted system, given how few states have adopted it. What do you say to people who are skeptical of changing voting, you know, this enshrined constitutional right in the country to a new system?
Well, it's actually been used in different parts of the world for more than 100 years. So there's an extraordinary amount of data on how well it works. And there are more than 20 states in the United States where at some level- local elections, municipal elections- they're using rank choice voting. So there's a lot of experience with this. But what I tell people is that if you're tired of the current system, if you think that you want more choices, that you don't want to have to vote for the lesser of two evils, this helps fix that. The other side of it is to say, well, let's just keep doing things the way we've been doing it. I think it's time to make changes in our democracy that make it better.
Do you think there'll be other impacts on how campaigns are run in America- or in Massachusetts, in this case- should ranked choice voting go through?
Yeah, there's a lot of data that show that campaigns are more positive, that candidates are more accountable to voters, that government is more accountable to voters. As a simple example, as a candidate today, if you're running for office, and you're going to knock on someone's door, and there's a sign for one of your opponents outside, you won't knock on that door, because there's no point. But in a ranked choice election, you need to get the voter to think of you as their second choice. So instead of walking past that house, you'll go talk to that voter and ask them, How can we agree on something? How can I find common ground with you? And that would be such a refreshing change to our politics, if political leaders and candidates were spending their time looking for ways to agree versus ways to bash each other over the head with every issue under the sun. So rank choice doesn't fix that completely, but it helps, and it's one of the reasons why it's such an important upgrade.
I've seen this described as instant runoff voting. Do you think of that characterization captures the impact of ranked choice voting in places that have instituted it?
I think it does. I think it's a it's a system that allows you to to have those choices without needing to worry about running a second election or a third election as sometimes can can happen to these runoffs. So yeah, ranked choice voting allows for an instantaneous runoff that gets the job done.
Is there anything else about ranked choice voting you want to make sure gets out there?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this has been endorsed by so many people all across the political spectrum from former Democratic governor Deval Patrick to former Republican Governor Bill Weld, Senator Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, former Lieutenant Governor Republican Kerry Murphy Healey and former Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez, all sorts of good government groups across the Commonwealth, but more than anything, the thousands of volunteers that have been working so hard over the last several years to bring this to fruition, and we look forward to winning on November 3.
Falchuk, who ran unsuccessfully for Massachusetts governor in 2014, founded the United Independent Party.