Elections are a simple matter, right?
Two candidates and the one with the most votes wins. Simple.
(Unless we are talking about the Electoral College, of course — but that’s a topic for another day.)
But what if there are three candidates, or four, or more? What if nobody gets a majority?
That’s exactly what happened last month in a crowded primary race in the 4th Congressional District. Nine names were on the Democratic ballot (although some had already dropped out of the running) and after a contentious campaign with a lot of sharp elbows being thrown, Newton city council member Jake Auchincloss emerged, well, sort of victorious.
Auchincloss received a plurality of 22.4 percent, just over 2,000 votes — out of more than 156,000 cast — and 1.3 percentage points over his nearest rival, Jesse Mermell. Auchincloss has called for party unity.
But Auchincloss, who will face former Attleboro city councilor Julie Hall in the general election to replace Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, will have a hard time claiming a mandate when more than three quarters of his party’s faithful wanted somebody else — including some people who were not even running anymore — to be their standard bearer. (Hall, the GOP candidate, easily dispatched her one primary rival.)
Obviously, Question 2 on this year’s state ballot didn’t have the primary’s woes in mind. But it does illustrate the kind of electoral kerfuffle that its proposal, “ranked choice voting,” is designed to prevent.
The referendum, if adopted as law, would work this way: In races with more than one person running for a single office, voters rank candidates according to their preferences. If a candidate receives greater than 50% of all first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. But, if no candidate receives a simple majority of first-preference votes, then the candidate receiving the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the eliminated candidate are eliminated, and the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots are tallied as their first-preference in the following round. The process is continued until a candidate wins a simple majority.
Opponents of the measure, and there are more than a few, say it’s too confusing and would actually discourage some people from voting. And there’s also a question of whether it would pass constitutional muster.
The state’s constitution says the person with “the most votes” is the winner of an election, without mentioning anything about a majority.
But “unfamiliar” is not the same as “confusing.” And the question has garnered a slew of endorsements, including much of the state’s congressional delegation, the League of Women Voters and — perhaps unsurprisingly — several of Auchincloss’ unsuccessful rivals.
We think Question 2 deserves serious consideration. It would serve as a spur to independent candidates as well as a way of ensuring that every voter feels his or her ballot counts.
It should be that simple.