Google “Fall River mayor.” Just below the requisite Wikipedia page, you’ll find a slew of recent headlines from “The New York Times,” “Salon” and “Politico,” among others.
The Massachusetts city of 89,000 quickly became a locale with national recognition after the mayoral election results in which its sitting mayor was simultaneously recalled and re-elected. A decisive 61 percent of residents voted to recall Mayor Jaseil Correia II, who faces federal indictment for wire and tax fraud charges related to his technology company. But in what The Boston Globe described as an “election stunner,” the incumbent’s loss quickly became a win with his narrow victory in the five-way mayoral race - the second question of the very same ballot.
And unlike the majority support for his recall, 35.4 percent support gave Correia back his seat in the five-way race, besting runner-up Paul Coogan, a school board member, by a mere 241 votes, according to unofficial election results.
Almost as quickly as the shocking results rose to national prominence began calls for ranked choice voting. Advocacy organizations like Voter Choice Massachusetts quickly seized the opportunity to highlight the importance of majority rule in crowded races. Meanwhile, columnists and editorial boards - including The Boston Globe - pronounced RCV the best safeguard against the Fall River fiasco, many suggesting that ranked choice ballots would have resulted in a different winner.
While we can’t know for sure whether RCV would have changed results, it would have offered complete assurance for voters to consider and cast ballots for the five candidates without worrying about a potential ‘spoiler,’ as FairVote Senior Fellow Dave Daley wrote in an op-ed for Salon.
“Ranked choice gives voters more power. It eliminates spoilers, encourages broader debate, and ultimately produces a winner with the broadest support...After all, we don’t say “plurality rules.” In a democracy, the majority should rule. The anti-democratic results from Fall River make the case for reform even clearer.”
Let’s hope such clarity convinces the Massachusetts legislature, which is considering two proposals related to local and statewide use of ranked choice voting.