Voter Choice Massachusetts offers democracy upgrade with ranked choice voting

Evan Falchuk, a board member of Voter Choice Massachusetts, explains how voting works under Ranked Choice Voting at the 2019 HubWeek's event "WTF is Ranked Choice Voting." Seaport, Boston, Mass., Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Sofie Isenberg/ BU News Service

By Sofie Isenberg
BU News Service

BOSTON — When Evan Falchuk ran for governor of Massachusetts as an independent in 2014, he was called a “spoiler.” Many argued if Falchuk hadn’t run, his three percent of the vote would have gone to Democratic candidate Martha Coakley and won her the race. Instead, Republican Charlie Baker took the seat with less than a majority of the votes.

Falchuk, a healthcare and political entrepreneur, led one of the last sessions at this year’s HubWeek Fall Festival Thursday evening. The 49-year-old board member of Voter Choice Massachusetts spoke to a small but engaged audience about why our voting system is broken, and what can be done to fix it. 

The solution, he argued, is to adopt ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant-runoff voting.

“[RCV is] an upgrade to the way we vote that gives us more choices and a stronger voice” Falchuk said. 

The system allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference instead of picking just one. Voters may rank as many or as few candidates as they wish; their vote would never have to go to a candidate they opposed, he explained.

This system is especially relevant in races where no single candidate receives a majority of the votes, Falchuck said.

Under RCV, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated first, and their votes are transferred to the voters’ next choice. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50% of the votes, thus ensuring whoever is elected represents an actual majority.

“We’re living in a time where people feel incredibly hopeless about the ability to change our system, because it’s been taken over by extremes,” Falchuk said.

Evan Falchuk discusses the frequency of non-majority outcomes in races with three or more candidates at the 2019 HubWeek’s event “WTF is Ranked Choice Voting.” Seaport, Boston, Mass., Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Sofie Isenberg/ BU News Service

He added that Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia would not have been re-elected earlier this year under RCV. Correia was arrested on both fraud and extortion charges while in office, and was recalled by over 60% of voters in Fall River, but was able to win another term after having the largest number of votes among the five candidates running.

RCV also offers the potential to increase diversity and reduce polarization in politics, Falchuk suggested. Candidates who expect to be ranked second or third by voters outside their base would have to think twice before attacking their opponents too fiercely, he said.

Falchuk said RCV is broad and has bipartisan support with no major opposition, although incumbents and others who benefit from the current power structure may be less enthusiastic about the system. 

The biggest obstacle to implementation, he said, is voter education.

“You’ve got to teach people what this is and why it’s actually a simple upgrade to the way we vote,” Falchuk said.

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