Letter: Ranked-choice voting disguises real problem

Posted
To the editor:

There was not a great deal of talk of ranked-choice voting in the district attorney primary, maybe because the result without ranked choice in place produced what many of its public supporters would conclude is a good result. If the incumbent had won by the margin he lost by, I have a feeling a hue and cry would be raised.

In ranked-choice voting, you basically rank your choices and then if the initial pass produces a resulting victor with less than 50.1 percent of the vote, you keep counting the 2nd or 3rd choices until someone gets 50.1 percent. In the recent DA's race, here is where you find a flaw.

If you supported the work of the incumbent and his 30 years of service, it is highly doubtful you would support either of the other candidates. And likewise, if you supported one of the other two candidates, you certainly did not support the incumbent, but given the vast difference in the other two — despite both taking on the label of "progressive" — you most likely did not support the other candidate either.

Better we should recognize that in any campaign with more than two candidates, voters expect that the winner of the contest will have less than 50.1 percent of the total vote (though it's possible that one could produce a pool where one person gets a majority and the others split the remainder of the vote). We should just remember that the one who won the most votes convinced more folks of the superiority of their message or record, and even if another group disagrees, it does not delegitimize the victor. What it does is to make that person work hard in their first term and convince the electorate to offer broader support in the future.

The real issue that is highlighted with these arguments, however, is that in places like Massachusetts (or Kansas, or Alabama for that matter) without a viable two-party system, the primary winner is the de facto winner. So instead of giving the voters the opportunity to weigh in on a winner who emerged from a primary campaign with a sub-50.1-percent vote and evaluate someone of a different party, it's a one-and-done vote. It also goes to the core that 50 percent or more of folks eligible to vote don't register, and that in a primary only about a quarter of those registered vote. Since so many folks decline to use the power they are given, and in Massachusetts neither registration nor voting is overly burdensome, I would say that ranked-choice voting simply tries to solve a problem that is better solved through better civic involvement rather than by managing or massaging the failure of citizens to do their duty and be engaged — rgardless of what ballot it is.

Dave Pill,

Pittsfield

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