Will of Fall River voters subverted by "pick-one" plurality system

The recent Fall River race isn’t the first time the will of the voters was subverted (and it won’t be the last).

While Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia awaits his day in court to face corruption charges, we don’t need a judge or jury to render the verdict that any election system that could allow someone to be recalled by 62% of voters and then re-elected by a mere 35% of voters on the same day is guilty of thwarting the will of the people.

The blame is not with Fall River’s charter, which requires the recall and election to run in tandem. Instead, the real guilt lies with the “pick one” plurality voting system used in nearly all Massachusetts elections, which is rife with flaws like “vote-splitting.” Fall River’s election yesterday is a textbook example of vote-splitting in action.

With a clear majority of Fall River’s voters indicating that they supported the recall, there is no doubt that Fall River voters no longer support Mayor Correia. There is also little doubt that when the votes of those opposed to Correia split among the four challengers, none of them could garner enough support to oust the deeply unpopular incumbent. As a result, Mayor Correia could squeak by a victory with 35 percent, even though 65 percent of voters effectively wanted someone else.

As egregious as the Fall River example may be with the recall and re-election questions appearing on the same ballot, such flawed results are far more pervasive than one might think. In the last 20 years of elections in Massachusetts, the rate at which winning candidates fail to achieve a majority of the vote (more than 50 percent) is staggeringly high.

For example, 60 percent of the winners of competitive races for governor, 44 percent of winning state representative candidates, and a whopping 89 percent of winning candidates for district attorney failed to earn a majority mandate from voters in either their primary or general election.

There are other more insidious impacts that the flawed plurality system yields. Chief among them is the potential impact on voters’ future behavior. For example, Fall River voters likely woke up on Wednesday deeply disenchanted with the system that created such a perverse result. This disenchantment can lead to significant numbers of voters deciding that a system so incapable of reflecting the wishes of the majority is one that’s simply not worth participating in at all.

The solution to the problems associated with the current plurality voting system is a simple reform called Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting allows candidates to rank candidates in the order in which they prefer them. If no candidate receives a majority, the last-placed candidate is eliminated and their ballots transfer to their voters’ second choice.

If RCV were in place in Fall River, it could have allowed voters for Erica Scott-Pacheco, with 5% of the vote to transfer to their second choice. No candidate would have had a majority, so the candidate now in last place would be eliminated and votes transferred. This would have continued until one candidate surpassed 50%. Based on what we saw in the recall part of the election, that would probably been one of Correia’s opponents. The wishes of 62% of the people would have been satisfied, instead of subverted by the “pick one” plurality voting system.

Legislation to bring Ranked Choice Voting to Massachusetts has been introduced in the State House by Senators Jason Lewis and Rebecca Rausch and Representatives Andy Vargas, Adrian Madaro, and Jennifer Benson. These bills would use Ranked Choice Voting for state primary and general elections, and let cities and towns adopt it more easily.

There are many other benefits to Ranked Choice Voting. Research has found that candidates run more positive campaigns, voters are more engaged, and cities can save money on preliminary elections. But, as Fall River has shown, perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that who voters want to elect will be the person who ends up in office.

Mac D’Alessandro, State Director
Voter Choice Massachusetts


With over 25,000 supporters and thousands of donors across the Commonwealth, Voter Choice Massachusetts is the largest statewide movement for ranked choice voting in the nation. Ranked choice voting has earned the endorsements of political, business, and civic leaders across the spectrum, like former Governors Deval Patrick and Bill Weld, and over 84 state legislators.

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