Our elections should be consensus-building opportunities in which candidates propose a variety of ideas and are then voted on by an empowered citizenry. Ranked-choice voting brings us closer to this vision.
Ranked-choice voting, or RCV, is a change to the way we vote. Right now we vote for one candidate. With RCV, a voter can rank multiple candidates on the ballot in the order of preference - first choice, second choice, third choice and so on. This simple change solves systemic problems that chronically divide us: vote splitting, spoiler candidates and negative campaigning.
Under our current system, those wishing to vote for a candidate who isn’t a front-runner might worry that they’re throwing their vote away. Or they might want to vote for a front-runner but worry that a similar candidate could siphon votes away and “spoil” their chances.
RCV allows voters to rank a preferred candidate as the first choice, and a stronger candidate as a backup choice. If the first candidate chosen doesn’t have enough support, the vote instantly counts instead for the second choice. No one ever throws a vote away. It stays intact. It’s never wasted.
Our current system rewards negative campaigning and dooms even like-minded candidates to run against each other rather than for their shared message. Our public dialogue devolves into personality attacks instead of focusing on ideas. RCV is a simple fix for a broken electoral system that divides us by design.
Let’s say I am a candidate. I ask for someone’s vote, but he or she already supports my opponent. Under our current system, it is to my benefit to attack my opponent’s character. Under RCV, I have an incentive to identify common ground with my opponent because I want the voter’s second- or third-choice vote. The result is less flamethrowing and more constructive conversation.
Ordinary citizens are to thank for promulgating this transformative reform. In 2016, Maine citizens approved a ballot measure to implement RCV statewide. Massachusetts can be next, and the transition should be smooth. We can implement RCV for state offices without touching the Electoral College or other contentious voting issues. We know that Massachusetts and federal courts have repeatedly upheld RCV as legal. We can rest assured that ballot counting under RCV is more transparent than our current election systems, because each machine issues the raw data of what was scanned rather than an aggregated count, providing fewer attack points that would go undetected.
We can pass ranked-choice voting, and in doing so, we the people can come together in an act of unity to transform our elections for the better. Voter Choice Massachusetts chapters across the state are doing just that, including right here on the Cape.
I urge readers to check out our website, voterchoicema.org, to learn more.
Laura Brisbane of East Dennis leads the Cape and Islands Chapter of Voter Choice Massachusetts. She can be reached at [email protected].
This op-ed first appeared in the Cape Cod Times on July 26, 2018
Photo illustration by Mikhaila Markham