Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect the proper spelling of the district attorney's name.
PITTSFIELD — For ranked choice voting (RCV), this is a time of historical moment, major endorsements and locally, a living teachable moment. For those who still do not what know what ranked choice voting is, it's easy: instead of voting for just one candidate, the voter ranks their candidates in order of preference. For instance, in the Berkshire Country District Attorney race, with RCV, you would rank Paul Caccaviello, Andrea Harrington, and Judith Knight in your order of preference. That's all the voter needs to know — that and the additional fact that their second and third choices will not impair the chances of their first-ranked choice. It eliminates vote-splitting between similar candidates (perhaps progressives in a DA race), and the phenomenon of the "throw-away vote" or "spoiler effect." The vote-splitting problem is not just in the Berkshire DA race, but is also in the Suffolk County DA race, with four self-styled progressives facing off against a DA candidate who (like Paul Caccaviello) has the endorsement of the outgoing DA.
Winning a majority
Suppose with ranked choice voting, someone had Judith Knight as their first choice and Andrea Harrington second choice (the two progressive women) and Paul Caccaviello third (Capeless' handpicked successor). Picking Andrea Harrington as a second choice would not hurt the voter's first choice of Judith Knight. With RCV, you have to win with a majority, meaning over 50%, and not just a plurality (the most votes). Under the current system, with three candidates in the DA race, it is mathematically possible to win with just one vote more than one third. But with RCV, if no candidate secures a majority, the candidate that comes in last place is eliminated and their second choices are counted.
Here is the problem: According to what is reported to the Office of Campaign Finance so far, Judith Knight has raised $20,634. Paul Caccaviello has raised $38,669 and Andrea Harrington has raised $52,269. Put another way, Harrington has raised 88% of the funds of the other two candidates combined, has a much larger organization than Knight, and has an impressive list of endorsements. It is understandable why so many progressives including Tricia Farley-Bouvier, fearful that a vote-split is inevitable, approached the candidates and asked one of the progressive women to drop out. Given the difference in monies raised and the size of the respective organizations, some would argue that Knight could play the role of "spoiler" and that she should drop out out of the race if one is determined to get a progressive elected. The current plurality system causes these rifts among ideologically like-minded people. If you are frustrated because logic would dictate that you can't vote for your favorite candidate, consider the solution that ranked choice voting provides. Under the current plurality system, organizational strength has to be a concern of the voter if they want to cast an effective, rational vote. But with RCV, voters could go with their conscience and not worry about strategically voting. You shouldn't have to be a game theory master or a statistician just to cast your ballot.
Maine led the way
Many cities have ranked choice voting, but the state of Maine made history this June by having the first statewide election using RCV in the United States. Maine's battle for RCV was hard fought and it showed that this common-sense upgrade to the way that we vote was practical and successful on a larger scale. Massachusetts is going to be the next state to pass Ranked Choice Voting, and this local DA election shows why. Every candidate in this election would benefit in some way from RCV. Both Harrington and Knight would no longer need worry about splitting the vote. However, if Caccaviello won, he would benefit from knowing he has a majority mandate.
After Maine's win, people have started to pay attention to this growing movement. It's been endorsed by the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist, Slate and the Atlantic. Last year, RCV became part of the Massachusetts Democratic Platform. This year, it has been endorsed by Democratic Gubernatorial candidates Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie, and Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth candidates (which oversee elections) William Galvin and Josh Zakim.
The author is speaking in his individual capacity and not for any candidate or organization.