Community Comment: Ranked voting offers more options

The past few years have seen a wide range of elected positions, from Boston City Council to US Congress, filled by Black, Latinx, Asian, and female candidates. Yet, while our democracy has much to be proud of, all too often the majority of voters see their voices ignored.

For example, In 2013, then-State Sen. Katherine Clark won the highly-competitive Fifth Congressional District Democratic primary with 31.6 percent of the vote. In 2018, Lori Trahan won the Third Congressional District Democratic Primary with 21.7 percent of the vote. Just a few weeks ago, Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss won the highly-competitive Fourth Congressional District Democratic primary with 22.4 percent of the vote. And, right here in Dorchester, Brandy Fluker Oakley won the Twelfth Suffolk State Rep. Democratic primary with 39.3 percent of the vote in a four-person race.

As of now, the most competitive elections in our state do the poorest job in reflecting the will of most voters. Fortunately, we can fix that this fall by voting Yes on Question 2—for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a system that would allow voters to rank candidates in the order of their preference, as opposed to selecting only one.

If, for example, six candidates are running, voters can rank those candidates from one to six. If a candidate wins a majority of votes on the first ballot — that is 50 percent + 1— then the election ends there. But if no one attains a majority, the candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated and those that ranked said candidates first have their second choice counted instead. This continues until one candidate attains the majority of support.

RCV may sound complicated, but it is actually quite simple. Instead of selecting only one candidate for each race, you can rank them. If you only want to select one, then you can select one. Yet at the end of each race, the winner will have majority support. Even if the winner ends up being the second or third preference of some voters, they would still have a broader base of legitimate supporters than many candidates do in our current system.

RCV has many other benefits. First, it promotes diverse candidates. Since individuals need not worry about the “spoiler effect” under RCV, candidates of color and female candidates are more likely to run – and win – with RCV than without. The city of San Francisco, for example, elected their first female African-American mayor in 2018 with RCV.

Second, RCV increases voter choice and competition. With more candidates and parties willing to run for office, both candidates and voters become more engaged in each election, driving up turnout.

Across the country, cities like San Francisco and Minneapolis use RCV, as does the entire state of Maine. But we do not need to look that far to see how well it works. Cambridge has used RCV since the 1940s and has one of the most diverse and representative city councils in the entire country. Meanwhile, cities in Western Mass, like Amherst and Easthampton, have already voted to implement RCV in 2022.

This fall, we have a unique opportunity to lead the nation by implementing RCV statewide. Our voices will be amplified and our power expanded. I urge you to Vote Yes on 2 this fall.

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford is the executive director of MassVOTE, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to voting rights. She is also the first vice president of the NAACP Boston Branch.