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

Posted by Andrew Douglas on February 12, 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.

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