Massachusetts Voters Reject Ranked Choice Voting in 2020 election

Massachusetts voters had a chance to join their neighbors in Maine and adopt Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) for future elections on November 3rd. The group that advocated for RCV, the Yes on 2 campaign, conceded defeat in the early hours of November 4th after more than half of the votes were against it.

If RCV had passed, it would have been implemented for state and federal elections  except for presidential races – beginning in 2022. The system would be used when there are more than two candidates in a race. Instead of only picking one person on the ballot in the traditional voting method, the voters would be able to rank candidates by preference. The ballot would then be counted in rounds. For each round, the candidate with the least number of votes would be eliminated. The first-choice votes that the defeated candidate received would be reallocated to other candidates depending on the next choice of the voters. This cycle would continue until a simple majority is reached by a candidate.

RCV has some support in the country. Maine is the only state in the United States that uses RCV for general elections. Some cities such as San Francisco, Cambridge, Mass., and New York City implemented the method for local elections. According to the Ranked-Choice Voting Resource Center, more than a dozen cities have RCV for some of their elections. In addition to Question 2 in Massachusetts, the method was also on the ballot in Alaska. The measure there also failed to pass.

In an interview with Evan Falchuk, the chair of the Yes on 2 campaign in Massachusetts, he offered his case for Question 2.

“Ranked-choice voting helps you not have to feel as if you’re voting for the lesser of two evils,” said Falchuk in a debate on WBUR before the election. According to Falchuk, RCV is a nonpartisan reform that will give voters more options to make their voices heard.

“If they didn’t think they could win, but they were taking votes away from someone they liked better. So, they dropped out in order to support one of the other candidates. That’s terrible,” said Falchuk.

In his vision, RCV would have allowed the candidate to stay on the ballot. As a result, some voters would have been able to vote for a candidate that they liked more.

He also said that it would bring an end to the adversary campaigning strategy that we see in American politics and encourage the candidates to build consensus. He offered an example from Maine in which two candidates crossed-endorsed each other. 

RCV may also encourage more third-party politicians to run for offices.

“You could run against a Democrat without being a Republican. I think we’d see more competitions,” said Falchuk.

In Massachusetts, the Yes on 2 campaign received endorsements from both Republican and Democratic politicians. Some notable figures included Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), Sen. Edward Markey (D), and former Gov. William F. Weld (R).

Some opponents of RCV claimed that it will cause confusion among voters who are less educated or older.

“People rank things in their life all the time,” said Falchuk as a response to the concern.

He refuted the claim by citing a survey conducted in Maine after the 2018 Congressional race. Nine out of 10 voters said their experience with the ranked-choice ballots was good. He also addressed the cost concern by pointing out that it only cost Maine $110,000 to provide the necessary upgrades to accommodate the new voting method.

In a Twitter statement from Falchuk after Question 2 was defeated, he said, “structural reform is a marathon, not a sprint. Changing the status quo is never an easy task.”