'A Greater Choice' Or 'Confusing': Arguments For And Against Ranked Choice Voting In WBUR Debate

Download Audio
On the eve of Election Day in the Massachusetts primary, a voter places his ballot into the Cambridge drop box. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
On the eve of Election Day in the Massachusetts primary, a voter places his ballot into the Cambridge drop box. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Next month, Massachusetts voters will have a chance to vote yes or no on whether to embrace a ranked choice voting system, which has been adopted by the state of Maine and more than 20 cities across the country.

Under the system, voters would mark the order of their preferred candidates on their ballots: first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on. If a candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, they'd be declared the winner. If nobody wins 50%, then the candidate with the fewest first place votes is eliminated, triggering an instant recount, with the votes for the eliminated candidate going to the voters' second choices. That process repeats until someone emerges with a majority.

"Ranked choice voting helps you not have to feel as if you're voting for the lesser of two evils," said Evan Falchuk, a former independent gubernatorial candidate and the chair of the Ranked Choice Voting 2020 Committee.

Presenting the case in favor of Question 2 on Monday during a debate on WBUR's Radio Boston, Falchuk argued that ranked choice voting improves democracy by empowering voters.

"It helps build consensus among candidates," he said. "It gives voters more choices. It gives voters a greater choice."

But Jennifer Braceras, a political analyst and board member of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, took the opposing view, saying the commonwealth should make voting as simple as possible and that ranked choice voting is too complicated.

"It's confusing to me, and I'm a pretty sophisticated voter with a Harvard Law degree," Braceras said.

Since most people don't have a Harvard Law degree, Braceras says ranked choice voting could actually disenfranchise those less sophisticated voters. She acknowledges the current system is flawed because it allows a candidates to win with a small plurality. That's what happened in the crowded Democratic primary in the 4th Congressional District, where Jake Auchincloss won with less than 25% of the vote.

"The obvious solution to that problem — and it is a problem — is to have a run-off," Braceras said. "But the advantages of ranked choice are far outweighed by its disadvantages, and we shouldn't mess with our current system at this time."

The city of Cambridge has been using a form of ranked choice voting to elect its city council and school committee since 1941.

If voters approve Question 2, ranked choice voting would be implemented in state and congressional elections, as well as some local races, including for district attorney and sheriff. It would not be used in presidential elections.

This segment aired on October 14, 2020.


Headshot of Anthony Brooks

Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live