To the skeptics of ranked-choice voting: Look no further than last week’s Fourth District Democratic primary elections, where Jake Auchincloss won the primary with 22.4% of the votes. Jesse Mermell was a close second, with 21.1% of the votes, and seven other candidates won between 1.6% and 18.1%.
The fact that a candidate who was the first choice for less than a quarter of those who voted will represent all of them should give us pause. Until Nov. 3, that is, when we should go to the polls and vote “yes” on Question 2 to bring ranked-choice voting to Massachusetts.
Since Auchincloss won fewer than half the votes, how do we know that he accurately represents the choice of the electorate? Perhaps those who did not vote for him or Mermell would prefer her over him if they knew their candidate had no chance of winning and they had a way to express this preference. Or they might support Auchincloss, thereby solidifying his win with an absolute majority. In fact, they might even coalesce around a third candidate, giving him or her more than 50% of the votes. With the way elections in our state — and most others — are conducted, we cannot know the answers to questions like these.
Most elections in Massachusetts, including the last week’s in the Fourth District, use plurality voting, where a voter selects a single candidate. This method is a mathematical aberration. Since it asks for very little information from the voter, it is inherently coarse and fails to incorporate any of the nuances of voters’ preferences beyond their top candidate.