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Ranked-choice voting will advance social justice

Vernon K. Walker

The 2020 news cycle has exhausted America’s voters with a seemingly constant flow of breaking news. One positive result of this ever-turning news cycle is the increased attention being paid to the issues affecting America’s marginalized communities, including systemic racism in the justice system, inequities between wealthy and poor communities’ public education systems, employment, health care and housing discrimination. Public support for these social justice movements is consistently growing. This year, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. On Nov. 3, Massachusetts voters can advance these causes even farther and drive future policy change by voting yes on Question 2 to bring ranked-choice voting (RCV) to Massachusetts.

The American people’s support for these social justice movements is on the rise. Unfortunately, too many of America’s elected officials are either apprehensive or uninterested in trying to address the issues affecting America’s underserved communities. A primary factor in this lack of action is the lack of diversity in our nation’s governmental ranks. The 116th Congress is the most diverse in our nation’s history, but there is much more progress to be made on the federal, state and local levels. Only 61% of the U.S. population is white, but 78% of Congress is white. More than half of the country’s population is female, but less than a quarter of our federal representatives are women.

If we want to see our elected leaders advance social justice causes, electing more diverse candidates throughout every level of government would be a good place to start. In 2018, we saw more people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community run for office and win than ever before in our nation’s history. It is heartening to see even more diverse candidates running for office this year, but many of these candidates have been disadvantaged by the fact that they lack the name recognition and financial resources that incumbents or more entrenched politicians typically enjoy.

In our current voting system, a voter can only cast one vote per race. This system often disadvantages outsider candidates and leads to less competition in our elections. When outsider candidates do run, whether in a major party’s primary or as a third party in a general election, they are often criticized as “spoilers” who peel off votes from more established candidates with similar platforms. In recent years we have seen outsider candidates build strong enough grassroots movements to overcome those disadvantages, but it is rare.

If Massachusetts adopts ranked-choice voting, outsider candidates could stay in their races without fear that they will split a voting bloc with another candidate. Under the RCV system, instead of choosing only one candidate to support, voters can rank by preference all of the candidates running for one race. Voters could support the outsider candidate while ranking the party favorite as their number two, thus eliminating the fear that they’re throwing away their vote on someone with no shot at winning.

Ranked-choice voting also requires that a candidate earns a majority of the votes in order to be declared the winner. If a candidate wins a majority on the first vote count, the race is over. If no candidates win a majority, the candidate who received the fewest votes is eliminated from consideration, and the votes they won are redistributed to those voters’ second choices. This process of elimination continues until one candidate wins a majority.

Ranked-choice voting will incentivize more diverse candidates to run for office and will help level the playing field as outsider candidates compete with well-funded, well-known insiders. It will ensure that our elected officials have the support of the majority of their constituents, not just a plurality. Ranked-choice voting is a simple change to our election system that will have a tremendous impact on future elections and future policy decisions.

Vote yes on Question 2 and help bring ranked-choice voting to Massachusetts.

Rev. Vernon K. Walker is the public policy director of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts and a Democratic State Committee member.

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