Voices & Choices

Massachusetts 3rd District primary marks lowest plurality win so far

Massachusetts 3rd District primary marks lowest plurality win so far

The Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District proved closer than perhaps anyone anticipated, with a 52-vote margin giving Lori Trahan the win over Dan Koh in results declared late Wednesday night.

But what we knew even before polls closed Tuesday was that the winner would likely secure the party’s nomination with less than 50 percent of the vote. As we’ve already seen in other crowded primaries this year, the 10-person field of candidates vying to fill retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas’ open seat foreshadowed a non-majoritarian outcome: just 21 percent of the votes, as it turned out.

Even with a recount looming, the 3rd District primary provides the unfortunately perfect example of how plurality voting methods backfire in crowded races. In fact, it’s the lowest plurality win of the 80 House primaries this year, according to FairVote data. Thirty-six primary winners claimed victory with less than 40 percent of the vote, a dozen of which won with less than 30 percent of the vote.

Whoever emerges winner out of the likely recount - in turn becoming the “prohibitive favorite” come November - will have done so despite nearly 80 percent of voters preferring a different candidate.

Consider how the same election would play out had voters been able to rank all of the candidates instead of choosing just one. The same person might very well win under ranked choice voting, but only with the broadest possible support of the district’s voters.

Ranked choice voting is already gaining traction across the state thanks to citizen-led reform efforts and backing from major news outlets. Tuesday’s primary results should drive that home.

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