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The Effect of Fair Representation Voting on 2013 Cambridge, Massachusetts Municipal Elections

by Andrew Douglas // Published February 20, 2014

Cambridge, Massachusetts is the only municipality in the United States to elect its city council through the at-large form of ranked choice voting, a form of fair representation voting. This report examines the effects of this system on the city’s 2013 city council and school committee elections, with a particular focus on comparing the outcome of the city council contest with the results of a simulated election using an alternative system: winner-take-all block voting. The effects of two structural features of the Cambridge system, ranked choice voting and the low electoral threshold, are examined. The report demonstrates that at-large ranked choice voting has benefited candidates from ethnic and political minority groups, who would have been unlikely to win election under a winner-take-all system. This difference in outcome can be attributed primarily to the low electoral threshold; ranked choice voting prevents vote-splitting from affecting the results of Cambridge elections, but did not have a direct impact on representation in 2013. Finally, the report discusses the school committee elections and the fact that the city council election triggered a hand-tallied recount, and issues raised by the recount.