Rinaldo Del Gallo III: Fall River's election lesson
PITTSFIELD — There are "teachable moments" galore about "textbook examples" of the failings that ranked choice voting would cure.
Ranked choice voting is a system where instead of voting for one candidate you rank your choices. To understand how the counting works, it helps if you know some words. A "majority" is over 50 percent of the vote. A "plurality" is the most votes, regardless of whether you have a majority, which is all you need to win most elections in America today. "Vote splitting" is when like-minded people split their vote among similar candidates so somebody that does not have a majority mandate gets elected.
Let's use the words in sentences: The vast "majority" of people living in Fall River did not want Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II, who was charged last year with 13 criminal counts of wire fraud and filing false tax returns, to continue to be the mayor, so they had a recall election this past Tuesday.
Now let's look at the use of the word "plurality," as described in an article, "Fall River recall election is a `textbook example' of the need for ranked choice voting, supporters say" according to Boston.com, an affiliate of the Boston Globe:
"In a special election on Tuesday, residents of Fall River voted their mayor out of office. But they also voted him back in, by a small `plurality' — on the same ballot." Confused? Welcome to the stupidity of the American political system where you can get elected with a plurality of the votes even though the vast majority of voters don't want you but there was vote splitting.
Passages such as this bring about an Alice in Wonderland malaise:
"On Tuesday, 7,829 residents voted to recall Mr. Correia, and 4,911 voted to keep him in office, according to the city's Election Commission. But on the same ballot, voters were asked to choose among five people for the mayor's job. Mr. Correia's name was included. There, he won a plurality, with about 35 percent of voters voting for Mr. Correia."
So let's throw Correia out of office by soundly winning a recall office with an overwhelming majority, and on the very same ballot on the very same election day, let's elect Correia with a 35 percent plurality because his four opponents "split the vote." Pure insanity.
But if Fall River had ranked choice voting, voters would have ranked their candidates in order of preference, 1,2,3,4 and 5. If nobody had enough first place choices to constitute a majority, which happened when Correia only took 35 percent of the vote, the person that came in last would have been eliminated, and the second-place choices of the person that came in last would be redistributed to see if anyone had obtained a majority in an "instant runoff election." If nobody had a majority yet, you would eliminate the person that came in last again, and repeat the process in another round. You keep repeating the process until someone wins with a majority.
Because there was no ranked choice voting in place, I can't tell you who would have won the election, but I can tell you for a certainty who would have not won — Correia, the mayor that the vast majority of people voted to throw out of office.
To paraphrase Jefferson Airplane's song "White Rabbit," one vote makes you recalled, and one vote makes you mayor again, and the votes in Fall River, don't do anything at all. Here's to the rank foolery of our plurality voting system.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is a member of the Berkshire Chapter of Voter Choice Massachusetts.
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