August 15, 2023 ·
When the spread for the neighborhood barbecue is left up to the simple majority, Ed Shoemaker says everyone winds up eating raisins in their potato salad.
The punch line in his analogy explaining the benefits of ranked-choice voting is meant to convey that more people win when weight is given to second- and third-choice candidates.
Three years after a ballot question asking to use ranked-choice voting in statewide elections, Shoemaker, co-chair of Ranked Choice Boston, is leading a new coalition pushing for a switch in how Boston city elections are conducted.
Question 2 failed in 2020 with roughly 55 percent of voters opposed, but Bostonians showed overwhelming support with 62 percent in favor. For proponents like Shoemaker, Boston is seen as a grassroots inroad that could lead to a statewide switch.
“If Boston can do it, that’s the big Domino,” Shoemaker said. “We’ve had a lot of momentum about this question. There’s been a lot of long-simmering and boiling pots and it’s starting to bubble over.”
Ranked-choice voting has voters rank multiple candidates on a ballot in order of preference instead of picking just one. If no candidate wins a majority of ballots cast, votes for candidates with the least support get reassigned in the order of each voter’s ranked choices, until there is a winner.
Proponents behind a renewed push for ranked-choice voting in local elections say it’s a system that encourages more participation, breeds diversity and fosters more collaboration. Opponents argue the system dilutes voters’ true choice.
In recent years the ranked-choice voting debate has turned partisan with a conservative backlash to progressives’ enthusiastic support for the system that’s been proven to draw more women and candidates of color to races. The MassGOP unanimously opposed the ballot initiative three years ago.
Some smaller Massachusetts cities and towns already use ranked-choice voting in municipal elections, including Easthampton as well as Cambridge, where it has been in use since 1941.
Efforts by other cities and towns to adopt the measure have been mixed, as the policy requires legislative approval via home rule petition. Four such petitions — from Arlington, Acton, Concord, and Northampton — are currently before the Legislature.
A pair of bills filed by Sen. Rebecca Rausch and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli would grant a local option statewide and eliminate the need for legislative approval, an effort Shoemaker and supporters back.