New push for ranked-choice voting system in Boston

A new coalition of nonprofits and advocacy organizations is launching a campaign to implement ranked-choice voting in Boston municipal elections.

The move follows a failed 2020 ballot campaign to create a ranked-choice voting system in state elections. But data from that election show a majority of Boston voters, nearly 62%, approved of the approach that allows voters to indicate support for multiple candidates, in order of preference.

"I think people are ready for this, this is not rocket science," said MassVote Executive Director Cheryl Crawford, who is a co-chair of the Ranked Choice Boston campaign.

Under a ranked-choice system, if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out and their tallies are redistributed to their voters' second choices. The process repeats until one candidate emerges with a majority.

"The person that really, truly gets the most support is the person that actually gets elected," Crawford said. "It eliminates that whole vote-splitting and spoiler problem that we've had in the past."

Crawford said the group will ask one or more Boston city councilors to sponsor the measure, which would then need to be approved by Mayor Michelle Wu, who has supported the issue in the past. Next, the city would have to take the measure to the state Legislature, through the home-rule petition process.

Advocates are optimistic about their path. Aside from the apparent local support, there's also a new governor on Beacon Hill. While then-Gov. Charlie Baker opposed the 2020 ranked-choice ballot question, current Gov. Maura Healey endorsed it.

But just as there was a battle over the statewide ballot question, there will be opposition to the proposal in Boston.

Ranked-choice voting "does have some very limited curb appeal," said Paul Craney, a spokesperson for the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

Craney said the system effectively disenfranchises voters who cast their ballots for eliminated candidates. He argues that voters have to accurately predict the top two vote-getters if they want a say in the final result.

"It would be, in my opinion, completely horrific if Boston did this," he said. "It would confuse the heck out of voters."

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance also vowed to oppose any new state-level push for ranked-choice voting. A group of petitioners also filed three versions of ranked-choice voting ballot questions with the state attorney general's office that could potentially appear in the 2024 general election.

The use of ranked-choice voting is growing around the country. Maine became the first state to enact ranked-choice voting for statewide elections in 2016. The city of Cambridge has been using a form of ranked-choice voting since 1941.

The Ranked Choice Boston campaign, which includes the Boston Teachers Union, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, MassLandlords and Our Revolution Massachusetts, will officially kick off with a rally in front of Boston City Hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday.


Walter Wuthmann General Assignment Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.



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