With increased political polarization and growing threats to the integrity of democratic institutions, many Americans seek a leader uniquely positioned to address society’s deep social divisions and inequality. They look to electoral processes to produce such a leader, making it critical that these systems best reflect the will of the people.
During the 2020 presidential primaries, many college students energetically mobilized for their candidate of choice, but some emerged from the process disillusioned about the current state of democracy. What happened to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang? Out of the most diverse group of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in American history, the process culminated in a race between two white men in their 70s.
Because the United States is not a direct democracy, our electoral systems require updates to ensure they are reflective of constituent interests. Ranked-choice voting (RCV), which is listed as Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot this year, is one of the most viable methods of doing so, as it ensures that elected officials are the choice of the people and not merely the winners of a broken system. This general election, the Daily urges members of the Tufts community to vote “yes” on Question 2, implementing RCV in Massachusetts as a more democratic alternative to plurality voting.
Under RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. A candidate wins if they receive more than 50% of first-choice votes. If no candidate receives a majority, then the candidate or candidates with the fewest first-choice votes are eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the next-highest ranked candidate on that voter’s ballot. Rounds of this process continue until a candidate eventually receives a majority.
RCV has a long list of supporters, from former Democratic candidate Andrew Yang to electoral reform commissions across the nation. Proponents of RCV in Massachusetts include Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Attorney General Maura Healey and Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren. Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas and Wyoming used RCV in this year’s Democratic presidential primaries. Some cities have also adopted RCV for local elections.
In this year’s general election, RCV will appear as the second ballot question in Massachusetts. Voters will decide whether Massachusetts will become the second state, after Maine, to institute RCV in primary and general elections for state executive officials, state legislators, federal congressional representatives and certain county offices, beginning in 2022. Although RCV will not be used in presidential elections, voting to implement RCV for the election of other statewide offices will be an important step toward constructing a more democratic voting system from the bottom up.
In contrast to the current system of “first past the post” voting, RCV elects candidates who win the majority of votes rather than a plurality. This results in more representative processes that appeal to a broader base of voters and allow independent candidates to run without being called off as spoilers. Research suggests that RCV could even promote the election of diverse candidates: One 2018 study found that RCV increased the representation of women and candidates of color in California elections. With broader margins, candidates must also differentiate themselves from competitors, resulting in depolarization and an elevated focus on policy over partisanship in elections.
Most notably, RCV can increase participation among disillusioned voters, as it engages those who feel their interests are not represented by the two-party system. Many young Americans feel apathetic toward the current voting system, especially as widespread grassroots support for candidates, including progressive politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders, has not always translated into political power. RCV presents a solution to this, as it bridges the gap between the “establishment” and candidates who do not typically receive establishment support. By giving voters more choices and making every vote count, RCV can increase voter turnout: Studies show that this increase can be as high as 10 points in general elections.
With civic engagement at the heart of Tufts’ values, it is critical that the Tufts community strives to cultivate more representative democratic processes. Voting yes to implement RCV in Massachusetts this election is just one way to ensure that all candidates and voters are fairly represented in elections and, as a result, part of directing our country toward a brighter, more equitable future.