What is Ranked Choice Boston?
Ranked Choice Boston is a space for residents seeking more equitable and democratic outcomes to come together in community and coalition. We are building on Boston’s overwhelming support for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) by continuing to educate and organize support for the use of RCV in our city elections.
Why do Boston elections need improving?
Boston has made incredible progress over this decade with diverse candidates competing for and winning office. Kim Janey’s elevation from City Council President to interim Mayor and Michelle Wu’s recent election are major milestones in inclusion for the city. In the 2021 mayoral preliminary election, an astounding 95% of Boston voters cast their vote for a woman of color.
This historic success in breaking through race and gender barriers puts Boston in a leadership position for navigating the frontiers for achieving a fully equitable multi-racial democracy:
How do we ensure effective and inclusive representation when there is no one unitary “majority” group?
…and when our city is a tapestry of so many interests and identities that intersect in so many ways?
Our current pick-one election system simply cannot handle this situation – it fails to give voters the tools to express their wishes in enough clarity and detail. As a result, what most Boston residents need from their leaders does not get fully discussed and translated into results.
This is why, despite the historic progress, many Boston residents still feel disappointed in and disengaged from the election process, and this needs to be fixed.
What is ranked choice voting?
Instead of being restricted to picking just one candidate, ranked choice voting gives you the power to rank candidates in the order that you like them: rank your favorite #1, your second choice #2, etc. With ranked choice voting, your top choice is never harmed by ranking additional “backup” choices.
In the current “pick one” system, if you’re not sure your favorite has enough money or name recognition to win, you feel the pressure to abandon the candidate you really love to vote for a “front-runner” you like less instead, to avoid “throwing your vote away.”
With ranked choice voting, your vote is never wasted. If your favorite candidate lacks the support to win, your ballot automatically counts for your next choice. At last, you can vote with your heart and your head at the same time.
Why is RCV the solution for Boston elections?
Simply put, RCV means every vote counts, every voice heard and achieves the following:
- Improve our elections in a manner that is simple and consistent for voters.
- Make elections welcoming for a diversity of candidates to run so voices representing all Boston’s neighborhoods and communities can be heard.
- Ensure fair outcomes where the most consensus views prevail in the elections by making sure the candidate with the most support wins.
- Maximize the impact of every voter’s ballot and encourage them to turn out by minimizing wasted votes.
- Give more choice to the more numerous Boston general election voters.
The net result is to increase voter power, trust, and engagement in elections.
How does RCV strengthen democracy?
RCV requires candidates to earn the majority of voters’ support to win, not just a narrow passionate minority. This encourages candidates to focus on issues with wide community support, while discouraging candidates from attacking each other.
In multi-seat elections like our at-large councilors, RCV produces fair representation for minority groups, while ensuring that the majority of voters elect the majority of seats. The best of both worlds!
RCV builds trust and helps communities find common ground, which promotes constructive neighborly discussions.
RCV also ensures that elections give voters enough choices to reflect what they want, and then most accurately translates those choices into elected representation.
This increases the public’s faith in elections and government, and also reduces the ability of highly polarizing candidates to be elected.
How does RCV support underrepresented groups?
By allowing voters to express their wishes more fully with ranked ballots, RCV is able to ensure that candidates with the greatest overall support of the broadest majority of voters win each election. In US cities in the past two decades, studies have shown that RCV breaks down barriers to people of color and women, allowing them to run for office and win like never before.
How does Boston go about implementing RCV?
The approach we are pursuing involves the city councilors voting to submit a home rule petition to the state legislature. This will need to pass the City Council with a minimum of 7 votes and have the support of Mayor Wu. Once that passes, it needs to be approved by the state legislature and then will likely require a referendum vote by Boston voters.
What is the proposed change for Boston elections?
Upgrade both preliminary and general elections to use ranked choice voting, for council district seats, council at large seats, and mayor.
Which elections will be affected?
Boston’s elections for Mayor and City Council, both the preliminary and the general election.
Will there still be a preliminary election?
Yes, the preliminary elections for:
- Mayor and city council districts, will now advance four candidates to the general instead of only two, and
- City council at large, will continue to advance eight.
Why are we keeping the preliminary election if fewer people turn out?
Having preliminary elections serves some useful purposes.
- The somewhat more politically active voters can perform a useful public service of “winnowing” the field of candidates from a large number to a smaller number for all general election voters to consider and fully express their opinion on – with a reasonable number of choices, without wasting time, and without ever wasting their vote.
- Having the four strongest candidates in a mayoral election allows for a focused debate while still offering a greater variety of perspectives.
I heard that RCV could be used to eliminate preliminaries and save money. Why aren’t we doing that?
Absolutely. RCV can allow cities to eliminate the preliminary and just have the general election, where more voters show up anyways.
The benefits of eliminating preliminaries are:
- Cost savings for the city of not having to run two elections.
- Cost and time savings for candidates, not having to campaign twice. This can help newer and less wealthy candidates who do not have deep pockets or extensive donor networks.
- More convenient for voters who only have to show up once.
However, there are trade-offs either way when deciding whether or not to keep or eliminate the preliminary.
- If Boston keeps the preliminary, the city does not get the benefits of eliminating it – cost savings, time savings, convenience.
- If Boston eliminates the preliminary, the city does not get the “more focused” general election and full reduction of wasted votes possible by keeping it.
The proposal for Boston’s first RCV implementation opts to retain the preliminary, as its benefits are more important right now than those of eliminating it. Maximizing voter trust by maximizing elimination of wasted votes will help smooth the transition. Retaining the preliminary is more familiar and consistent with the current system for candidates, voters, and elected officials.
In the future, Boston may consider the relative merits differently and make adjustments.
Why do general election voters need more choices?
Substantially more voters turn out for Boston general elections. Boston is a very diverse city. Having only two voices in the critical general election conversation where the most people are paying attention is simply not reflective of the conversations the city needs to have. Further, there is clear evidence that our current top two primaries often fail to advance the two most popular candidates.
What is a “wasted vote”?
- A wasted vote is one that has no impact.
- In a preliminary election, a wasted vote is one that does not contribute to advancing a candidate you voted for.
- You might waste your vote on purpose by voting for a less popular candidate that you are passionate about.
- More often in a large field, a voter may have no idea which candidates have the best chance of winning.
- In council at large races, you are allowed up to four votes. If you do not use all of them to “bullet vote” to optimize the chances of your favorite candidate, you are also wasting your unused votes.
- Of course, if you don’t vote at all, that is the biggest waste! But voters are less likely to vote when they feel their vote will be wasted even if they cast it.
Is there really any such a thing as a “wasted vote”?
Voting is an important civic duty and one of the strongest ways to express your wishes as a voter. Still, some votes have more immediate impact on who is elected than others. Our voting system should allow voters to fully express their wishes without being penalized by giving up the full impact of that vote. You should be able to vote “with your heart” and “with your head” at the same time.
Why do we care how many votes count, versus are wasted?
Wasted votes don’t determine winners and do less to hold elected officials accountable. The more votes count, the stronger each voter’s voice, the more responsive election officials will be to their needs. If there are few wasted votes, politicians have to appeal to as many voters as possible.
Why do we care if every voice is heard?
In our election conversations we need to hear from intelligent people speaking on behalf of every neighborhood and community in Boston so that politicians are hearing their needs and competing to serve them. That’s the only way we get representation and policy in Boston for the most residents possible.
Why doesn’t Boston use RCV already?
Because change is sometimes hard and voting is the foundation of our democracy – it’s not to be changed lightly. We’ve been voting the same way for over 200 years!
The good news is that when people learn about RCV, more than 60% support it. That’s why this effort is about educating and organizing – once people come together in awareness of this opportunity, the City Council and Mayor will have the support needed to move forward.
How can we trust RCV will work the way RCB says it will?
RCV has been used around the world and in parts of the United States for over one hundred years. It has a track record of consistently delivering on these benefits.
Send us an email