Debate from the ten-candidate CD3 Primary: In this race, someone could win with 11% of the vote!
Tuesday's September 4th primary presents Massachusetts voters meaningful choices for the future direction of our state government. If the past is a guide, the results of these races will clearly impact us for many years to come. Unfortunately, what’s also clear is that the problems of our plurality voting system — where voters are limited to only one choice — are on full display:
- Similar candidates risk splitting the votes from a common base of support and dragging their shared values to defeat.
- Voters are fearful of wasting their vote on a candidate that can’t win and feel pressured to choose a front-runner instead.
- Elections will likely be won with less than a majority (50%) of the vote, making us wonder whether the best candidate was chosen.
As shown in our roundup table, there are 25 primaries with 3 or more candidates on the ballot tomorrow. These are 25 elections that are at risk of choosing a winner without majority support — 25 reasons we need Ranked Choice Voting.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the races from our table:
The Republican primary for US Senate includes three candidates: Geoff Diehl, John Kingston, and Beth Lindstrom. In October of last year, The Boston Globe reported that John Kingston attempted to pressure Beth Lindstrom out of the race to avoid splitting the vote of moderate Republicans. Candidate suppression is a familiar problem of our plurality voting system.
In the 3rd Congressional district, a whopping ten candidates are competing in the Democratic primary to replace the retiring Niki Tsongas. With only a single choice, voters are having difficulty navigating this remarkably crowded field. A candidate could literally win with as low as 11%. Read more about the pitfalls of voting (and running) in the 3rd Congressional race in our blog post.
The 1st Franklin district also faces a crowded field of seven candidates, all of whom have declared their support for ranked choice voting, citing the likelihood vote-splitting in this race. The 1st Franklin district, notable for being the most rural House district, is highly unstable after a significant portion of the Western Mass delegation was wiped out earlier this year. With no Republican candidates running, the winner of this primary will be the new district representative. Voters there are nervous about the prospect of a winning vote share potentially as small as 15%, which could have a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of the region's representation.
In the Berkshire County District Attorney race, three Democrats are vying to replace the retiring David Capeless: Paul Caccaviello, Andrea Harrington, and Judith Knight. CommonWealth magazine has written about political insiders trying to orchestrate an advantage for Caccaviello, and a state representative pressuring one of the other candidates to drop out to avoid splitting the vote.
In the Suffolk County District Attorney race, five Democrats are seeking to replace the retiring Dan Conley: Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Greg Henning, Shannon McAuliffe, and Rachael Rollins. A number of news stories have highlighted concerns about similar candidates splitting a common voting bloc and consequently, feeling pressured to drop out of the race. Read more on our blog about the havoc that our plurality voting system has caused in the Suffolk DA race.
A Systemic Problem, a Simple Fix
Open seats are the most common cause of crowded fields, vote-splitting and spoilers. An “open seat” is when an office is vacated by an incumbent, numerous candidates rush in to compete for the seat in a party primary, and the winner often then goes on to serve as an incumbent for many election cycles. This is a major problem in Massachusetts: in the past 20 years, 61% of Massachusetts 3+ candidate primaries were won without winning a majority (more than 50%) of the vote. That’s 218 of 355 contests which fail to achieve a majority mandate.
Ranked Choice Voting would fix these problems. Ranked Choice Voting is a simple change to the ballot. Instead of picking only one choice, a voter can rank multiple choices on their ballot in the order of preference -- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. This way, if a voter’s favorite choice does not have enough support, their vote transfers to their next “backup” ranking. This ensures that voters can vote honestly, candidates with fresh ideas can run without getting pressured to drop out, and contests with three or more candidates will always result in a majority winner: a better fit for the district. Read more about Ranked Choice Voting here.
Here are three things you can do right now to help bring better voting to Massachusetts:
- Use the hashtag #WishICouldRank on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to highlight any of the above elections or just join the thousands of Ranked Choice Voting supporters around the Commonwealth asking for #RankedChoiceVoting. (Remember to follow us too!)
- Join our email list, volunteer with us, or donate to help win Ranked Choice Voting.
- Attend a meeting, training, or event near you. There are dozens of opportunities this month!