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Ranked-Choice Voting Is Among 12 Initiative Petitions Certified By The Mass. AG

A voter in Cambridge (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A voter in Cambridge (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

An effort to have Massachusetts voters next year weigh in on a ranked-choice voting system moved a step forward Wednesday, as it was one of 12 initiative petitions certified by the state attorney general.

Certification means the AG's office found the petitions met constitutional muster. The office certified 10 proposed laws and two proposed constitutional amendments, and rejected four other proposed laws.

Here's how ranked-choice voting works: Voters could, if they want, rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate wins more than 50% of support after the initial round, that candidate wins. But if no candidate receives majority support, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and that candidate's voters are divvied up, based on voters' next-highest-ranked picks. This process is repeated until one candidate crosses the 50% threshold.

Backers of ranked-choice voting — which include Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees elections in Massachusetts — say it ensures winning candidates receive wider support among the electorate.

Ranked-choice voting is used in some races in Maine, among other locations, but proponents have also cited recent elections in Massachusetts, under the current system, to make their case. One example: Last year, more than 60% of voters voted to remove indicted Fall River Mayor Jasiel Corriea from office. But on the same ballot, Corriea's name was among the candidates running for the mayor's office, and he earned a plurality of the vote, keeping him in office despite the recall result.

Critics of ranked-choice voting, as the Eagle-Tribune reported this week, say it is confusing and "leads to sleepy campaigns ... where candidates avoid hot-button topics because they don’t want to alienate potential supporters."

The initiative petition would implement ranked-choice voting, starting in 2022, for "primary and general elections for all Massachusetts statewide offices, state legislative offices, federal congressional offices, and certain other offices," according to a summary of the measure provided by the AG's office.

Ranked-choice backers now have three months to gather signatures from more than 80,000 voters, after which the Legislature will get an opportunity to act on the issue. If lawmakers don't, supporters can gather additional signatures to force a November 2020 ballot question.

Legislation to bring ranked-choice voting to some Massachusetts elections has been referred to the Joint Committee on Election Laws.

Other initiative petitions that were certified Wednesday include:

  • an effort to require all gun owners to keep their weapons in their home, business or vehicle secured in a safe, and to hold gun owners liable "for harm caused by anyone using an unsecured weapon obtained" from the gun owner;
  • a measure to limit the money state, county or local political candidates or ballot question committees could accept from political action committees based out of state or from residents outside of Massachusetts;
  • and a proposal to change reimbursement rates for nursing homes and rest homes paid by the state.

The attorney general's office also certified both petitions that sought constitutional amendments, one of which would add a line to the state constitution emphasizing that public funding of abortion is not required, and another that would restore voting rights to incarcerated felons.

The two constitutional amendment proposals must secure approval from at least 25% of the House and Senate acting jointly in two separate two-year lawmaking sessions. If that threshold is cleared, they will appear on the November 2022 ballot.

The AG's office declined to certify four proposed laws that would: expand the Legislature's ability to limit political spending and contributions by corporations; manage fishing equipment to ensure whale safety; place the top two finishers in a primary election, regardless of party, on the general election ballot; and create a commission to limit human-rights risks from technology.

Voters or petitioners who disagree with the AG's determinations can ask the state's highest court for a review.

In 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court overruled the attorney general, saying that a proposal to add a surtax on all income above $1 million could not appear on the ballot. A new push for the so-called "millionaire's tax" is now moving forward.

With reporting by State House News Service's Chris Lisinski

Benjamin Swasey Twitter Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.

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