Now that Maine has voted to embrace ranked choice voting, there is a move to bring it to Massachusetts. Unfortunately, this is a solution in search of a problem, and our problem is far different than Maine’s.
Maine’s problem is they have far too many candidates on the November ballot, or shall we say far too many progressive candidates on the ballot. Splitting the progressive vote between two progressive candidates (Democrat and independent) has allowed for Paul LePage to be elected with 38% and 48% of the vote. Ranked choice voting would have kept LePage out of the governor’s mansion in Maine, and would have permitted a candidate to be elected that was more in line with the values of Maine voters.
For the most part, our problem is not with independent candidates dividing the progressive vote, although the argument can certainly be made that Evan Falchuk gave Charlie Baker the opportunity to be a minority governor. The real problem in Massachusetts is the lack of competition up and down the ballot.
Massachusetts is a one-party state. The Democratic Party has become a very large tent, resulting in some very conservative (by Massachusetts standards) folks winning election as Democrats. This illusion has resulted in voters installing a Republican in the corner office to watch over the Democrats, when in reality the more conservative legislative leadership (at least in the House) is much more likely to align with the governor than they would with a true progressive leader.
Ranked-choice voting will land us in the same place where we are right now. Uncontested or lightly contested general election races where the Democrat will be assured of victory in November. The only cure would be to have a system where two Democrats could end up being the only names on the ballot in November.
How does that happen? Simple. Instead of this ranked choice scheme, let’s look to California and their electoral reforms. California went to an open primary system where everyone can run in the primary, and the top two candidates emerge to run in the general election. California, just like Massachusetts, leaves nobody in suspense as to which party will win the general election. The difference is that California had a general election contest where voters chose which Democrat would become their United States Senator.
It really is a ranked choice system, except that it adds to the possibility of two candidates of the same party making it to the November ballot. It also gives folks time to reevaluate the candidates one on one after the primary, instead of the third place candidate’s votes being automatically distributed among the top two finishers.
For those who are thinking of working for ranked-choice, my plea is please stop now. It may look like a cool idea, and it was the right solution for Maine. It’s wrong for Massachusetts. It won’t solve our problems. Let’s work for a California-style open primary, with the top two candidates moving forward in November. That is the cure for the rampant wave of uncontested races on our ballot, which will give us more and better choices in November.