Massachusetts voters knock down ranked-choice voting in failed ballot question


State House News Service

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

By Frankie Rowley, Content Managing Editor

Massachusetts voters shot down ballot question two on Tuesday, which would have implemented a ranked choice voting system for select primary and general elections in the state beginning 2022.

Ranked-choice voting allows residents to place candidates in order of preference, with a victor being determined when a candidate reaches a majority rather than a plurality—meaning candidates would need to clear a 50% threshold, rather than simply receiving the most votes. 

Voters opted not to adopt the system by a 9.2 percent margin, with 54.6 percent of voters choosing no and 45.4 voting yes. As of publication, 98 percent of precincts have reported results.

According to Fair Vote, 24 states have used ranked choice voting to a certain degree. But Maine is the only state to adopt the voting system. The state used ranked-choice voting for the 2020 presidential election. Alaska also had a ballot measure that proposed ranked-choice voting.   

Massachusetts voters who spoke to The Beacon were split on whether or not a ranked choice voting system should be implemented. 

“I did disagree with the current plan for ranked choice voting,” Anais Abrego, a first year student, said. “I disagreed with the fact that after the last person got the least amount of votes, those votes would be reallocated to the second to last person. The whole plan for ranked-choice voting was to eliminate or try to eliminate the spoiler effect and give the voter more of a voice. However, reallocating those votes seems like it’s limiting that voter’s voice.”

 Patrick Pierce, a sophomore writing, literature and publishing major, said he voted for question two. He said he felt it was a way to shift away from a two-party system.

“I voted yes on question two,” Pierce said. “I think it’s a very good thing. I believe that’s like a way to expand a person’s voting rights. You don’t really lose anything by doing rank choice voting, you essentially just gain quite a bit.” “In our two-party system, where people more often have to compromise their views and their ideal candidate in the name of going with a candidate that they think is most likely to win, I think ranked-choice voting gives a good alternative for that.”

Pierce said the ballot question was a key motivator for him to vote this year.

“I’d say it was one of the main reasons why [I voted],” he said. “In Massachusetts, the general election won’t be close. For the most part, most local elections are going blue.” 

Massachusetts resident Anais Abrego said she would like to see a ranked choice voting system. (Media: Courtesy of Anais Abrego)

Massachusetts voted decisively in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden, with 65.7 percent of votes in the state going to Biden, and just 32.5 percent of votes going to President Trump. 

For Abrego, the state’s proposed ranked-choice system needs revisions to make it clearer. She also said the proposed system wasn’t explained well to voters. 

“I want to see a ranked-choice voting system that didn’t reallocate the votes automatically because it sort of goes against the voter’s free will to me,” Abrego said. “I know that people also had a problem with the setup being confusing. It would harm voters who already have trouble at the polls, for example, voters that don’t speak English, those with learning disabilities or the elderly, because it was never really explained in a way that made sense.”

Pierce too voiced concern about the lack of information made available to voters about question two, especially in comparison to ballot question one, which outlines the “right to repair law.” That law allows car owners to have access to and share vehicle operation data with independent repair shops and passed after 74.9 percent of voters selected yes. 

“I feel like there was really no campaign behind the ranked choice voting,” Pierce said. “It’s a stark contrast of what you saw with question one, where there were ads everywhere…I feel like a lot of younger voters know what [the question] is, but the people who are [campaigning for ranked-choice voting] have to work on their outreach towards more middle-aged and older voters.”

Although only 45.4 percent of the Massachusetts vote approved of a ranked-choice system, Pierce said it would benefit all voters and is becoming increasingly important for those who vote for third-party candidates. 

“Giving people more options is always going to be a good thing,” Pierce said. “In our two-party system, where people more often have to compromise their views and their ideal candidate in the name of going with a candidate that they think is most likely to win, I think ranked-choice voting gives a good alternative for that, where you can pick your ideal candidate.”